Scotch Whisky 101
A passion, a hobby, or perhaps a lifestyle; this historic style of whisky has captured the hearts and taste buds of many.
From smoky and peaty Islay malts to light and floral Lowland delights, there is no definitive style of Scotch. In general, Scotch whisky is a malt whisky or grain whisky (or a blend of the two), made in Scotland. The word Whisky comes from the Scottish Gaelic word: Uisge-Beatha
which translates to water of life. All Scotch whisky was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 1700s. As of 2020, 134 Scotch whisky distilleries were operating in Scotland. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.
Any age statement on a bottle of Scotch whisky, expressed in numerical form, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed-age whisky. A whisky without an age statement is known as a no age statement (NAS) whisky, the only guarantee being that all whisky contained in that bottle is at least three years old. The minimum bottling strength according to the regulation is 40% alcohol by volume. Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: single malt, single grain, blended malt (formerly called “vatted malt” or “pure malt”), blended grain, and blended. As explained in the graphic below:
1. Malting: Malting involves soaking the barley in a tank of water for two to three days. The water is then drained, and the barley is laid out on the malting floor, where it begins to germinate or sprout. Germination can take eight to twelve days.
2. Mashing: After germination, the barley goes into a kiln for drying. After drying, the barley is ground into a powder called a grist. The grist is then put in a mash tun vessel, where it is mixed with hot water. The hot water induces the starch in the grist to turn into sugar. The liquid, now called wort, is filtered out, and the solids become high quality animal feed.
3. Fermentation: Distillers combine the wort with yeast, which turns the sugar into beer-like alcohol called wash. Takes between 2-7 days.
4. Distilling: In a pot still, the wash is heated until it turns into vapor. The vapor rises to the cooling plant, turning back into a liquid. This is called distillation, which removes any impurities. Distillers distill the Scotch two to three times.
5. Maturation: The liquid, or distillate, is put into used oak barrels to mature. Scotch must mature in oak casks for at least three years. There are many different aging times utilized by Scotch makers, keep in mind they can blend together different ages of Scotches to try to find the best balance.
6. Blending: In this optional stage, distilleries blend Scotches from various casks or distilleries to create different flavor profiles and kinds of Scotch. After blending, the Scotch then moves to the bottling process.
Here is a list of Vinocopia’s current Scotch brands:
AnCnoc from the Highlands region
Arran from the Islands region
Balblair from the Highlands region
Beinn Dubh from the Speyside region
Clan Macleod which is Blended Scotch
Edradour from the Highlands region
Glen Scotia from Campbeltown
Loch Lomond from the Highlands region
Macleod’s from all the regions
Six Isles from the Islands region
Smokehead from Islay
Clan Macleod which is Blended malt