Lowland Whiskies: The Gentler Side of Scotch

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Big, bold, brash whiskies get all the attention right now. While nothing tastes better than a dram of Ardbeg on a cold and wet winter’s day, sometimes you just don’t want a glass full of smoke and wood. So what do you drink? Lowland malts.

These whiskies, which hail from southern Scotland, typically have a floral freshness, a light body and a short finish—in other words, they’re the perfect aperitif. They also drink well with ice and soda or even straight and heavily chilled.

Despite their milder personalities, these whiskies are by no means the poor relations to assertive Highland malts or smoky Islay spirits. These gentle malts were best sellers back in the mid-1800s; however, recent history hasn’t been as kind. Eight Lowland distilleries closed between 1975 and 1995, including Rosebank and St. Magdalene, whose prized light and fresh whisky can still be found in very limited quantities.

For a decade there were only two operating Lowland distilleries: Auchentoshan, just outside Glasgow, and Glenkinchie, near Edinburgh. Both malts are still widely available. The distinctly floral and smooth Auchentoshan (try the $30 Classic or the $104 18-Year-Old) is the only Scotch to triple-distil its whisky, while Glenkinchie (try the $50 12-Year-Old) has the largest stills in the industry that produce a grassy spirit with traces of lemon zest.

But there may be a Lowland renaissance just yet. Over the last 10 years, three lowland distilleries have started up, including Bladnoch and the tiny Daftmill Distillery. Three more are currently being planned; it will be a while before they start selling whisky, but it will be well worth the wait.

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Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich, is the author of ten books on Scotch, including the recently published Whiskypedia.

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