A Guide to Scotch Whisky Regions - Lowlands

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

The most underrated and least understood of all Scotland’s whisky regions

Historically much of the single malt whisky produced in the Lowlands was destined for use in blended Scotch, but now they are beginning to make a name for themselves.

The number of distilleries in the area has grown significantly during the last decade due to the craft distilling boom. New distilleries are popping up all over the region in both rural settings and major city centres.

Prior to that just three single malt distilleries remained in the region following the tough period of the 1980s and 1990s. Now, new names sit alongside the old and traditional distilleries that held the torch for the Lowlands during darker times. It is the Lowlands’ time to shine.

Where are the Lowlands?

The Lowlands comprise the second largest whisky making region, after the Highlands, and sit to the south of the Highland Line. This imaginary line, which is defined by old county boundaries and the Highland fault line, runs diagonally between the mouths of two of Scotland’s most well-known rivers – the Clyde to the west and the Tay to the east.

The region encompasses the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, plus the highly populated Central Belt. It also includes the Kingdom of Fife plus the areas of Ayrshire, The Borders and Dumfries & Galloway amongst others. The northern boundary is the Highland Line with the southern boundary being the border with England.

What Does Lowlands Scotch Whisky Taste Like?

Whisky from the Lowlands has long been known for its soft, light, and delicate character and flavour. It can also have a lively, vibrant, and uplifting nature. Expect floral and grassy notes (both fresh or dried grass/hay) with mellow maltiness and sweetness. Common characteristics include white chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, and lemon zest.

In some cases, such as at Auchentoshan, triple distillation is undertaken. This is widely regarded as more of a tradition of Irish whiskey and accentuates the above characteristics. The practise of triple distillation was established in Scotland by Irish immigrants who settled in and around Glasgow during the early to mid-1800s.

However, as within the other Scotch whisky regions several distilleries are producing whiskies outside of tradition. This includes Inchdairnie in Fife, which are producing rye whisky and Ailsa Bay on the outskirts of Girvan in Ayrshire. They are producing a coastal peated style of single malt.

Well Known Distilleries in the Lowlands Whisky Region

By the early 2000s just three single malt distilleries remained in the Lowlands – Auchentoshan near Glasgow, Bladnoch in rural Dumfries & Galloway and Glenkinchie near Edinburgh.

Auchentoshan is the most well-known and has an extensive range of single malts. Casks are often available to purchase on the market also. It was founded in 1823 and is the only distillery in Scotland to practise triple distillation for its entire production.

Bladnoch has had a chequered recent history with closures in the 1990s and mid-2010s. Originally founded in 1817, it is one of Scotland’s most remote distilleries. New ownership has breathed new life into Bladnoch and set about re-establishing it as a leading single malt brand.

Glenkinchie is something of a tourist hotspot and just a short drive from central Edinburgh into the rolling hills of East Lothian. Founded in 1837, it has traditionally been used in leading blended Scotch whiskies. Glenkinchie is one of four homes of Johnnie Walker dotted around Scotland (plus Cardhu in Speyside, Clynelish in the Highlands, and Caol Ila on Islay) with each distillery an important component of the blend.

New Lowlands Whisky Distilleries

The Lowlands region is one that has benefitted most from the growth of craft distilling over the last decade. Numerous distilleries have opened in this time, expanding the choice for consumers. They are putting the Lowlands back on the Scotch whisky map.

Many are in rural locations as their predecessors were, but the boom has also seen the rebirth of the urban distillery. Glasgow boasts the Clydeside and Glasgow distilleries while Edinburgh is home to Bonnington, Holyrood and the soon-to-be opened Port of Leith.

The Kingdom of Fife is a particular hotbed with several new distilleries appearing. Its proximity to Scotland’s capital has led to a thriving whisky tourism industry in the region as more distilleries open their doors and begin production.

Names to watch out for include Daftmill near Cupar, Eden Mill and Kingsbarns near St. Andrews, Inchdairnie in Glenrothes and Lindores Abbey near Newburgh.

Rural distilleries can be found off the beaten track with several using locally grown barley. In the case of Lochlea in Ayrshire, this is grown on the farm where the distillery is located. Other such Lowland distilleries making an early name for themselves include Annandale in Annan near the English border and The Borders in Hawick.

Names From a Bygone Era

The Lowlands, and particularly the Central Belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow, are littered with highly regarded and revered former distilleries that fell on hard times. The Lowland distilleries, like many across Scotland, could not survive the terrible slump in Scotch whisky sales and production during the 1980s and 1990s. Key names lost during this period include Littlemill, Rosebank and St. Magdalene.

Littlemill, which was in the village of Bowling near Dumbarton, was founded in 1772 and would be one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries if still in production. It closed in 1992. Similarly, St. Magdalene, which was in Linlithgow and began production in 1795, closed in 1983.

However, Rosebank, which is in Camelon on the banks of the Forth & Clyde canal, has been resurrected after 30 years of silence. Distillation is scheduled to commence again in mid-2023. The bold project to bring the distillery back to life is a collaboration between owners Ian Macleod Distillers and The Scottish Canal Trust. The original distillery had opened in 1840 but closed in 1993.

Bottlings and casks from these fabled distilleries are highly sought after and desired by whisky connoisseurs and investors alike. Extremely high prices reflect the revered nature and rarity of these malts.

For further information on the whisky regions of Scotland or the best whisky cask investments to make from the Lowlands, then please contact us below.

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