Scotch Whisky (often referred to as simply “Scotch”) is distilled from malted barley or unmalted grains and aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. As its name suggests, Scotch whisky must be made in Scotland.
Scotch is divided into 5 categories:
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky is distilled at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills using only water and malted barley.
- Single Grain Scotch Whisky is distilled at a single distillery using water and malted barley, as well as, whole grains of other malted and unmalted cereals. “Single Grain” does not mean that only one type of grain was used, but refers to the use of a single distillery.
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky* (formerly called “vatted malt” or “pure malt”) is a blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky* is a blend of two or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended Scotch Whisky* is a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies. (When displaying an age statement, distillers must use the age of the youngest whisky in the blend).
Is it true that blended Scotch is lower in quality?
Over 90% of all Scotches produced are blends. With a statistic that large, it’s hard to deny its popularity. However, a common misconception seems to equate blended with poor quality. This is far from true. A blend can contain anywhere between 15 to 50 different single whiskies that are combined to create Scotches with depth and character.
Different regions of Scotland are known for their own unique styles. However, these regional taste profiles should be thought of as guidelines, not rules. The five (some argue six) regions of Scotland are:
- The Highlands is the largest region and its whiskies can vary greatly in taste. However, in general its whiskies are full-bodied. The Highlands can be further broken down into four areas: Northern Highland whiskies tend to be full, with a spicy character. Southern & Eastern Highland whiskies are fruitier in nature. Western Highland whiskies have a dry character with some peatiness.
- Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland and takes its name from the river Spey, which cuts through the area. These whiskies are known for their elegance and complexity. They are often light, with a honeyed sweetness and notes of fruit. While some have hints of peat, it is more refined, far from the smoky punch of some Islay whiskies.
- Islay (pronounced “eye-luh”) whiskies tend to be strongly flavored and the peatiest (or smokiest) of all Scotches.
- The Lowlands produces whiskies that are light and gentle. They are often triple distilled and rarely use peat.
- Campbeltown whiskies are typically dry and gently smoky, with a briny character.
- The Islands, an unrecognized sub-region, is a diverse area that produces a variety of whisky styles. However, smokiness seems to be a recurring theme. In general, these can be thought of as a milder version of Islay whiskies.
So, grab a “wee dram o’ Scotch” and give it a try. But, keep in mind that most people don’t fall in love with Scotch on the first sip. It is an appreciation gained over time, and, in our opinion, well worth the pursuit.