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Whiskey (or whisky) is a beloved spirit all over the world. From Kentucky, to Ireland, to Japan, to Taiwan, and even Tazmania, whisky is truly a global drink. But, today, we look to England’s northern neighbors Scotland and its Scotch whisky. But, what exactly is Scotch and how is it different from other forms of whisky. Well, for one thing, it isn’t spelled with an ‘e’. In fact, only Ireland and the US call it whiskey. Canada, Japan, Scotland, and every other country calls it whisky. There are many more things that make define what exactly Scotch it.
What is Scotch?
In the simplest terms, Scotch is malt or grain whisky distilled in Scotland. “The main difference between Scotch and other whiskies is its origin,” says Nicolas Villalon The Macallan National Ambassador. “Scotch whisky must be made in a manner specified by law.” You can think of whisky (or whiskey) as a much broader category which is differentiated by different regions. “You can even get more specific within the category,” says Villalon. “For example: The Macallan is a Single Malt Scotch, which means it is produced only from malted barley and comes from a single distillery.”
What are the different kinds of Scotch?
There are five types of Scotch.
Single malt whisky – made from malted barley, produced at one distillery in Scotland.
Single grain whisky. – made from various grains, produced at one distillery.
Blended Scotch whisky – at least one Single malt whisky blended with at least one grain whisky.
Blended Malt Whisky – Only single malt whiskies blended together.
Blended Grain Whisky – Only grain whiskies blended together.
“Single malt whisky is distilled in a copper pot still that acts as a large kettle, whereas grain whisky is made using a process called continuous distillation using a Coffeyor Patent still,” says Fraser Campbell, Global Brand Ambassador of Dewar’s. There are around 120 single malt distilleries and seven grain whisky distilleries in Scotland. “The grain distilleries produce a higher output of whisky per year than all single malt distilleries combined.”
What is its history?
Scotch evolved from a Scottish drink called, uisge beatha, meaning “water of life” in Gaelic. As most things dating back to the 15th century, the history of whisky can be a bit blurry. “It’s safe to say that it was a rocky path for Scotch to evolve into the product we know today,” says Villalon. Prohibitive taxation in 1644 led to a countryside full of illicit distillers. “It’s only in 1824 that the Wash Act was passed, bringing back the tax rates to reasonable levels and making it possible for distilleries such as The Macallan to become legally licensed,” he says.
What are the different Scotch regions?
Scotch is made all over Scotland and the distillation is broken up into 5 distinct regions. They are the Highlands (home to Glenmorangie, Tullibardine, and Aberfeldy), Lowlands (home to Auchentoshan and Bladnoch), Speyside (home to Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and The Macallan), Campbeltown (home to Glen Scotia, Glengyle, and Springbank), and Islay (home to Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Bruichladdich).
How is it made?
Each distillery has its own unique specifications, but in general, there are several steps to produce Scotch.
Malting – The first step is malting. This is where barley is steeped in water and then spread out on malting floors to germinate.
Mashing – The second step is mashing. This is where the dried malt is ground into a coarse flour.” After being mixed with hot water in the mash tun, the water’s temperature is increased, and the mash is stirred to convert the starches into sugar,” says Villalon.
Fermentation – The third step is fermentation. This is where yeast is added and alcohol is created.
Distillation – The fourth step is distillation. This is where the liquid enters pot stills to go through the distillation process. “A very important part to how the liquid ultimately tastes as the alcohol is separated from the liquid until only the finest cut is left,” says Villalon. “The Macallan is known for our curious small stills which add to our overall character and taste profile.”
Maturation – The last step is maturation. “For The Macallan, this part adds the most character to our whisky,” says Villalon. “We source only the finest casks for aging as the influence of wood accounts for up to 80 percent of the final flavor.”
What are the rules and regulations?
Just like cognac, tequila, and champagne, Scotch has its own set of rules and regulations. “Regardless of whether it is a malt or grain whisky, to be a Scotch whisky, the whisky must meet important requirements legislated by The Scotch Whisky Act of 1989,” says Campbell. In order to be called Scotch, the spirit must be:
- Produced in a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley.
- Fermented only by the addition of yeast.
- Distilled at an alcohol strength of less than 94.8% alcohol by volume.
- Matured in Scotland in oak casks for a minimum of three years.
- Bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% alcohol by volume (or 80 proof).
What is the best way to drink Scotch?
Scotch is best enjoyed how the drinker prefers it. “That being said, Scotch is typically enjoyed at room temperature, which allows for optimal taste,” says Villalon. Some people like to add a few drops of water to open up the flavors or add ice if they prefer it chilled. “I’d recommend enjoying your dram out of a Glencairn glass. Drinking your Scotch from the tulip-shaped glass allows your nose to pick up scents which is essential since we taste with our noses.”
If you prefer, you can experiment with different mixers such as soda, coconut water, ginger ale, green tea or Coke. “Try adding different citrus oils and garnishes, and delve into a delicious array of Scotch cocktails,” says Fraser.