If there is a category of distilled spirits that is intimidating, Scotch would be the schoolyard bully! Once you get to know and understand Scotch, it is actually a very enjoyable spirit. The full body flavor and aromas of Scotch can scare off just about anyone who has never tried Scotland’s native spirit.
There is one very important step in the process that sets Scotch apart from all the others …they roast their malted barley in an open kiln over a peat fire. This process gives the malted barley a smoked, campfire-like flavor and aroma. The three other things that contribute to the characteristics of Single Malt Scotch are: the type of barrels used for aging, how long it is aged and where it is aged.
BLENDED SCOTCH VS SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
Blended Scotches are put together by Master Blenders who take barrels of Single Malt Scotch from numerous distilleries and create one product. Along with the numerous Scotches, a grain spirit can also be put into the blend. The Master Blender’s overall goal is to create a consistent blend year after year. The most recognized brand of Blended Scotch would be the Johnnie Walker line of Scotch.
Single Malt Scotch can still be a blend, but the whiskey must be from the same distillery. These whiskeys can be from numerous years and do not have to be listed on the label.
The age statement on the bottle of both Blended Scotch and Single Malt Scotch is the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. So when you buy an 18 year old Scotch, only a portion of that bottle is 18 years old. There may be whiskey as old as 25 to 40 years old in the bottle!
The three main regions you will find when shopping for Single Malt Scotch are Lowland, Highland and Islay. There are a couple other regions, but they are often hard to find. Two examples are Campbeltown and Speyside. Each of these regions are influenced differently by the climate and wind that comes off the salty seawater.
Located in the southern most part of Scotland, there is very little exposure to the sea breeze. Lowland Single Malt Scotch tends to have a softer, more elegant flavor without too much peat influence.
The Highland region encompasses almost all of central and northern Scotland. Highland is the most popular and largest region in Scotland. Scotch from the Highland region is firm and dry with noticeable peatiness, saltiness and spice.
Islay is a small island off the west-central coast of Scotland. Islay has the most exposure to the sea breeze and weather elements of all regions. Islay produces the richest, most full flavored Single Malt Scotches of all the regions.
Scotch is best served straight or cut with a little bit of distilled water. Scotch can also be served over ice or with a splash of club soda.