For a whiskey to be called “Scotch” it must be distilled in Scotland and matured in an oak cask for a minimum of three years and one day. Scotch is drunk around the world and is Scotland’s most famous export, but if you order a Scotch in a bar there, you should simply ask for whiskey – Scots do not refer to it as Scotch at all!
Scotch has been produced for over 900 years since the monasteries acquired the art of distillation, quite literally this was purely for medicinal purposes – the making of medicines and potions. With no grapes in the country, barley grain was used instead to produce a barley beer, and further distillation resulted in the origins of Scotch whisky. Modern Scotch is distilled not once, but two or even three times, but it is the cask conditioning and maturing which brings out the true flavor and character of the drink.
Scotch is classified into blends and single malts – blends are just that, a blending of different whiskies which may also be further matured and conditioned. Blends can make a good Scotch, but for the most part they are produced for the mass market and are of inferior tasting quality. For those who enjoy Scotch, single malt is the beverage of choice – made from one distillation and conditioning process.
There are five areas of Scotland which take their geographic and distillation methods to give a further classification to Scotch whiskies:
Highlands – typically the northern, mountainous region but further sub-divided into:
Island malts – made from all but one of the Scottish outlying islands; and
Speyside malts – from the northeastern coast of Scotland.
Islay – an island off the southern western coast of Scotland;
Lowland – from the south of Scotland; and
Campbeltown – on the Kintyre peninsula jutting out into the Irish sea, once known as the “Whisky Capital of the World”, but now a minor whisky producing area
The Five Fine Whiskies – One of Each
1. Bowmore – an Islay Malt – with a distinctive peaty taste and golden texture, this is a refined whisky and younger vintages are well within your budget. Conditioned in sherry casks imported from Portugal which are then burnt to bring through the oak texture into the aging whisky. If you can afford it, try the 15 year old as your entry pointy to this excellent, smooth and easy drinking Scotch;
2. Talisker – an Island Malt (Highland) – again a peaty flavor with a dark color and an excellent nose (smell). Talisker is distilled on the Isle of Skye, where additional spices are introduced to produce a distinctive flavor which is often described as either fiery or salty. It is not a Scotch for the occasional drinker and is an acquired taste, especially for the 10 year old entry Scotch – best to try the 18 year old if your budget allows it;
3. Glenfiddich – Speyside Malt (Highland) – Glenfiddich is a popular brand of single malt whisky and of the Highland malts it is the only one to be distilled, matured and bottled at a single source and only uses water from the Robbie Dhu Spring. Conditioned and matured a variety of casks – rum (Cuba), bourbon (US) and sherry (Spain). It is well known as a 12 and 18 year old, but for a real experience try the 30 year old;
Auchentoshan – Lowland Malt – one of only three Lowland distilleries still operating, Auchentoshan is also a rarity in that it uses triple distillation (most malts are only distilled twice). The Scotch is also unpeated, unlike say an Islay Malt, which gives a more refined and delicate flavor than is to be found in most other whiskeys; and
Springbank – Campbeltown Malt – Springbank is only one of three distilleries still operating here, and the Scotch is not of the quality to be found elsewhere though Springbank does compete. The whisky is distilled two-and-a-half times, which is unique – this allows some of the wine which is separated to be mixed back in to give a unique flavor. Typically dark and peaty, it can be rough around the edges if it is bought as cask-strength and does well when diluted with water.