Most of you probably know the highly successful Elements of Islay bottling range by Speciality Drinks. Here the Islay distilleries have been assigned pseudo-chemical symbols, so the bottles look as if they were snatched from the shelf of a chemistry lab.
Wouldn’t it be nice to expand this concept to a full-blown periodic table like the ones gracing the walls of school rooms and university lecture theatres? After all, there is a lof of chemistry going on in whisky making, so the analogy is not entirely pointless.
After quite a few hours of data collection, brain tormenting and formatting here is the result. Klick the picture to download the PDF file:
You can also buy a poster of the periodic table on Zazzle.
The table includes both working and closed Scottish malt and grain whisky distilleries as well as a selection of important blend brands. Displayed data includes founding and closing years, number of stills (malt distilleries only), production capacity and current ownership. Two major issues had to be tackled: the assignment of symbols and the ordering.
There are more than 150 entries in the table, and symbol assignment was not an easy task. To avoid confusion, the Elements of Islay symbols should not be altered, and there should be no one-letter symbols to avoid the impression that some distilleries or brands were something special or somehow rated above others. Since there are more than 30 “Glen” distilleries, not every distillery can have a two-letter symbol starting with its first letter. Three-letter symbols were out of discussion. So for some of the Glens the second part of the name was used for symbol assignment. A special case is Glengyle that received the Ki symbol. Suitable second letters after G were running out, so Ki was chosen to represent Kilkerran which is the brand name Glengyle uses for its whisky.
Unlike in chemistry the ‘elements’ are not numbered. The number of a chemical element equals the number of protons in an atom, clearly defining it. For a whisky distillery there is no equivalent, only the founding dates could justify a numbering, but then the entire table would have to be based on that.
How should the distileries be ordered then? In chemisty the elements are grouped by periodic similarities in the configuration of electrons, so it could be argued that whisky distilleries should be grouped by similarities in style. But while some distilleries like Laphroaig or Glenfarclas do indeed have rather distinctive house styles, others like Benriach or Bruichaddich offer a wide variety of styles. Experimentation with casks and peating levels have been steadily increasing, so grouping distilleries by style would cause a serious headache.
In this table the active malt whisky distilleries are horizontally grouped by geography. The concept of whisky regions has often been criticized, also on this very blog, not the least because of the problems of styles just mentioned. But used simply as a geographic guiding line, it can be useful for an overview of distilleries.
Lowlands and Islay take the outer ends – if there are any regions that display at least a minimum of regional character, then these two. Islands next to Islay is fairly straightforward, the remaining distilleries are grouped by a virtual tour across the Scottish Highlands with Speyside in the centre. The grouping is of course subjective because there are no clearly defined sub-regions. Vertical arrangement is by distillery capacity from low to high.
Closed malt whisky distilleries as well as grain whisky distilleries and blended whisky brands are ordered alphabetically. Capacity data for closed distilleries is hard to find and thus omitted. And regional grouping would have looked very patchy.
Lochside and Loch Lomond are only listed as malt whisky distilleries, even though they produce(d) also grain whisky. Please note that Carsebridge was founded in 1799 as malt distillery, it only switched to grain in the mid-1850s.
The limited space of the table does not permit to include sub-brands like Longrow or Ledaig, nor can alternative distillery names such as Hillside for Glenesk or Rare Ayrshire for Ladyburn be mentioned.
Founding dates for blended whisky brands are not always easy to find. Some only list the founding dates of the company which may be much older than a particular brand. In general there tends to be a mix-up of company founding, brand founding and individual expresison founding, so some of the dates should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Ownership is colour coded with indpendent distilleries or such with non-conglomerate ownership (for example Tomatin) remaining uncoloured. The recent takover of Whyte & Mackay via United Sprits by Diageo is not implemented because the deal has not been finalized yet and it is unclear if the W&M distilleries will remain with Diageo. The table will be updated once things become clear.
Closed distilleries that belonged to a predecessor of a current conglomerate are assigned to the present conglomerate, for example Inver House to International Beverage or DCL to Diageo.
The PDF file may be shared freely, but permission is requred for printing. Should you find any errors or have suggestions for improvement, please feel free to comment or contact.
Update Version 1.1 (24th May) – William Grant & Sons was found missing in the owners list.
Update Version 1.2 (26th May) – Added Caledonain and Starlaw, changed Alloa to North of Scotland, changed “Rb” for Rosebank to “Rs” due to doubling with Royal Brackla
Update Version 1.3 (26th May) – Changed Benriach to Be and Benromach to Bc
Update Version 1.4 (27th May) – Swapped Tv and Tt because of capacity