Scotch is a whisky that can only be called Scotch if made in Scotland and was originally made from malted barley. Distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. There are currently more than 200 Scotch distilleries in production.
Scotch is divided into five distinct categories in today’s market: Single malt, single grain, blended malt (formerly referred to as Vatted Malt or Pure Malt but now prohibited from being labeled this way by the Scotch Whisky Association), blended grain, and blended Scotch.
All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years to be provided with the honor of being labeled as Scotch and must be bottled at a strength of 40% alcohol by volume.
For Scotch to be authentic, if must also be processed into a mash, converted at a distillery into fermentable substrate by endogenous enzyme systems that can be distilled at alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8%.
Furthermore, Scotch must be matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity that does not exceed 700 liters (185 gallons), while maintaining the color, aroma and taste of the raw materials used to produce it. And to top it off, all Scotch, must be officially labeled in Scotland as required by SWA.
Aged Scotch is of the utmost demand due to the requirements that enable the title, which also increases the value. Once Scotch has been disbursed into its final resting place (a bottle) it does not continue to age. While it has become more common for a distillery to produce young Scotch because of supply and demand, the young Scotch still must meet the 3-year-old requirement.
When it comes to the flavors and aromas of Scotch, the way in which it is aged is the primary contributor of its characteristics. There are dozens of compounds that provide distinct flavors that establish it’s body including volatile alcohol congeners (also called higher oils) formed during fermentation, such as acetaldehyde, methanol, ethyl acetate, n-propanol, and isobutanol.
Other flavor and aroma compounds include vanillic acid, syringic acid, vanillin, syringaldehyde, furfural, phenyl ethanol, and acetic acid. One analysis established 13 distinct flavor characteristics dependent on individual compounds, including sour, sweet, grainy, and floral as major flavor perceptions.
Scotch has been described as the distinguished gentleman’s drink and in the history of manliness; no other drink has ever commanded such presence, machismo, character, or class. In modern times, female executives have also started to choose Scotch as their drink of choice.
Now that you have an understanding of Scotch, it’s time to dive into the proper way to drink it. While there are few rules to follow, two remain unbreakable:
- Scotch drinkers do not order a “shot of Scotch” and pound it at the bar. Ever.
- Scotch is never used as a mixer. Blended whiskies, perhaps, but never the good stuff.
The general rule about ice and water is brought up a lot. The “rules” dictates that you do not add ice to your whisky because it shuts down the flavors and robs you of the full experience. Instead, you are invited to add a splash of water to your dram. This really opens up and exposes the floral notes and flavors of the whisky, and you’ll notice a difference immediately, by allowing the Scotch to become relaxed yet vibrant.
If you are new to whisky, ice is probably your best friend. Many first timers simply can’t stand the hit to the palette that scotch delivers, and a little ice helps to cool things off. It is advised to start with a single cube of ice in your dram and work your way to just a splash of room temperature water before eventually maturing your senses to the point where you will no longer accept any dilution of your perfect glass.