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Issue 14 - Exploring the geography of taste.

Whisky Magazine Issue 14
February 2001


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Exploring the geography of taste.

Alex Kraaijevild examines whether there is a correlation between the taste of whisky and distillery location.

Did you know that the regional classification of Scottish malt whiskies and distilleries used today (Lowlands, Islay, Campbeltown, Speyside, Northern Highlands and so on) has its origins in 18th century excise laws?It was The Wash Act of 1784 that drew the 'Highland Line' and divided Scotland in to the Highlands and the Lowlands. Distillers in the Lowlands were taxed a rate of 5d per gallon of wash, whereas Highland distillers had to pay an annual licence of £1 per gallon still capacity. In addition, Highland distillers also had to use locally grown grain and were not allowed to export their whisky across the 'Highland Line' to the Lowlands.

The exact location of the 'Highland Line' has changed a number times (notably in 1785 and 1793) and an intermediate zone within the Highland area existed between 1797 and 1800 before it was incorporated in the Lowland area. However, the most significant change in ruling took place in 1816 with the event of The Small Stills Act which abolished the tax differences between the Highlands and Lowlands.

In the last few decades the geographic division of Scottish single malt whiskies and their distilleries has become more refined with geography often linked to taste variation – this suggests that single malt whiskies have regional taste characteristics similar to wines.

Single malt whiskies are often said to be ‘typically Islay', ‘typically Speyside' or ‘typically Lowland'. Regional generalisations such as these have been criticised ...

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