Orkney is the most northerly of Scotland's whisky-producing regions. Sometimes considered a part of the Highlands region, the archipelago of some 70 islands is found just off the northern tip of Scotland, in the cold waters of the North Sea. Only two distilleries are located in the islands, and they produce whiskies that are full bodied and balanced, with smoky, salty characters.
The archipelago covers around 380 square miles (1000 sq km). The North Atlantic Gulf Stream contributes to the mild maritime climate here, and even at the high latitude of 59°N, Orkney enjoys milder winters and cooler summers than some parts of inland Scotland. The climate is characterized by strong winds, which bring salty, tangy characters to the maturing whiskies, and high humidity, which slows aging and leads to more-even maturation over the years.
Some of Orkney's whiskies are peated, and as the archipelago is younger geologically than the more-famous region of Islay, the peat here is vastly different. The high winds that buffet the islands have led to a dearth of trees, and as a result, Orkney peat is less woody, taking more influence from the floral heather that has covered the land for centuries. As a result, Orkney whiskies have a more-honeyed character than their medicinal Islay counterparts.
Orkney has been inhabited for many thousands of years, and whisky production here dates back to at least the late 18th Century, when the remote Highland Park distillery began life as an illicit still. The other distillery in Orkney is Scapa, which was established in the 1880s.
Some cask- and bottle-conditioned beers are also made in Orkney.