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Issue 4 - The geography of taste

Whisky Magazine Issue 4
June 1999


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The geography of taste

In part four of his nosing course. Charles Maclean looks at how malts came to be classified by region

Traditionally, malt whiskies were classified geographically by their region of origin – the region itself lending style and character to the whisky made there. With the rediscovery of malt whiskies in recent years, this classification has been eagerly adopted, and indeed expanded, by writers and marketing people addressing consumers who are familiar with the idea of regional classifications for wine.

But such a parallel is tenuous. As the chemistry of production and maturation becomes better understood, making it possible to produce, for example, Islay-style malt on Speyside, the usefulness of classifying malt whiskies by region has come to be doubted in certain quarters.
In this article, I will look at how regional classification came about, and explore its usefulness as a guide to the malt whisky drinker; in the next issue I will examine other ways of grouping and classifying whiskies, in relation to their flavour characteristics.

The original regional division was simply between whiskies made in the Highlands and those made in the Lowlands. The Wash Act of 1784 defined 17 counties as ‘Highland'; this was tightened up by an amending Act the following year which narrowed the region somewhat by redrawing the Highland Line from approximately Dumbarton to Dundee. Whiskies made above the Line were subject to different legal provisions from those below (in other words, those in the Lowlands) and the nature of some of the provisions, especially in relation to the permitted s...

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