Oban Distillery

Whisky Regions of Scotland Explained

Braeval Distillery
Braeval Distillery in Chapeltown of Glenlivet (Speyside)

As it seems, there is much confusion out in the blogosphere and on the likes of Facebook and Twitter about the whisky regions of Scotland.

Many people seem to think that it is a matter of choice whether a whisky is declared a ‘Highlander’ or a ‘Speysider’, some feel that the Islands deserve the status as a distinct region, etc.

However, the situation is quite straightforward, so let’s clear up a few popular misconceptions about the whisky regions of Scotland.

According to Regulation 10, Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, there are three protected regions (Highland, Lowland, Speyside) and two protected localities (Campbeltown, Islay).


Dalwhinnie Distillery
Dalwhinnie Distillery (Highland) at sunrise

The area of Scotland north of the Highland Line (see definition below), except Speyside.


The area of Scotland south of the Highland Line.


The wards of Buckie, Elgin City North, Elgin City South, Fochabers Lhanbryde, Forres, Heldon and Laich, Keith and Cullen, Speyside Glenlivet (all within the Moray Council area)

The ward of Badenoch and Strathspey (Highland Council)


South Kintyre ward (Argyll and Bute Council)


Isle of Islay (Argyll and Bute Council)

So far, so good, now let us have a look at that famous Highland Line.

The Oxford Dictionary simply tells us that it is ‘the (notional) dividing line between Highlands and Lowlands’.

Auchentoshan Distillery
Whisky cask outside the Auchentoshan Distillery  (Lowland)

Now, that was helpful, wasn’t it. So back to the Scotch Whisky Regulations where the matter is explained in somewhat more detail:

In this regulation “the line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region” means the line beginning at the North Channel and running along the southern foreshore of the Firth of Clyde to Greenock, and from there to Cardross Station, then eastwards in a straight line to the summit of Earl’s Seat in the Campsie Fells, and then eastwards in a straight line to the Wallace Monument, and from there eastwards along the line of the B998 and A91 roads until the A91 meets the M90 road at Milnathort, and then along the M90 northwards until the Bridge of Earn, and then along the River Earn until its confluence with the River Tay, and then along the southern foreshore of that river and the Firth of Tay until it comes to the North Sea

Glengoyne Distillery
Glengoyne Distillery (Highland)

A closer look at the map proves to be an interesting exercise because it immediately takes care of a myth – heavily used and often repeated – concerning the Glengoyne Distillery. If you go on a tour there (which I highly recommend) the tour guide will tell you that the spirit is distilled in the Highlands and matured in the Lowlands.

But the A81 road separating the distillery from the warehouses, allegedly being part of the Highland line, crosses the real divider almost at a right angle and distillery as well as warehouses are well within the Highland region.

Studying the map also explains why Dalwhinnie is a Highlander, while Spey, distilled in nearby Drumguish, is a Speysider.

So it is clear that, at least for the moment, there is no such thing as an ‘Island’ whisky, let alone a ‘West Highlander’ or ‘South Lowlander’. For us whisky geeks the only hope is that with the introduction of the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2065 (or thereabouts) we will see an amendment, finally giving us an ‘Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky’.

Cheers to that!


2 thoughts on “Whisky Regions of Scotland Explained

  1. While I accept that the rules regarding border of whisky regions are set out in regulation. I would contest that there is no element of ‘choice’ involved.
    Like in the case of Champagne in 2008, borders can be altered. More often than not, it is done in search of increasing demand for that particular region’s liquid.
    Regarding history, borders for ‘whisky’ regions were fluid and based on community ties. In the north of Ireland we are committed to a project where we are establishing a ‘new’ whisky region, Dal Riada, which is in fact the oldest whisky region in the world. It incorporates Islay, and while it might not adhere SWA/IWA regulations, we would happily defend its relevance and provenance. Check it out:


    1. Of course such things are not set in stone, but any distillery here in Scotland the rules are pretty tight. A distillery that chooses not to adhere to SWA regulations (i.e. Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) might find itself in pretty hot water.

      Interesting to read about that Dal Riada region, though. Thanks for pointing that out!


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