08 July 2022
The Lowland region, which was once a powerhouse of whisky production, has been, until recently, the least sparsely populated of the now debatably irrelevant scotch whisky regions.
Lowland whiskies were as varied in their style in the past as they are today, though legislation around tax and production volume incentivised Lowland distillers to produce a lighter style of whisky and this is a reputation that the region has held onto.
The Lowlands malt whisky region was first defined as part of the 1784 Wash Act, which introduced a theoretical ‘Highland Line,’ running across Scotland from the Firth of Clyde in the west to the Firth of Tay in the east, with differing levels of excise duty initially being paid on either side of the line.
The Act aimed to stimulate legal distilling in the Highlands and to reduce illicit distilling, and applied lower rates of duty to small distilleries north of the Highland line—a state of affairs that persisted until 1816. The specifics of the tax policy meant incentivised Highland distillers to run their stills as fast as possible, since they were taxed based on the still volume rather than the amount of spirit produced. In the Lowlands it was the other way around, thus creating a distinction of spirit character between the two regions.
It was during the latter decades of the 18th century that a major, commercial Lowlands distilling industry developed. Lowland distillers traditionally used coal rather than peat in the malting process. Additionally, triple distillation—where spirit is run through three stills instead of the usual two—was often employed, helping to define the quintessential Lowlands style—whiskies that are comparatively light in flavour in body.
In 2010 the Lowlands had just three active malt distilleries (Girvan, Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan) with only the latter two actually bottling any malt whisky. There are now 16 active distilleries in the Lowlands and at least a further seven in planning stages, which means that this is the fastest growing region in Scotland. This should come as no surprise, given the towns and cities that populate the south of Scotland, some of which have a rich history of distilling ripe for revival.