“I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly… “
Many of us know this quote Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, but a lot more of us don’t know a lot about Scotch. To Americans, it’s a bit of a mystery. Americans love our Bourbon (we did an episode on it not too long ago), and historically, Rye has also been more popular in this country. But Scotch is a beautiful, wonderful, storied drink with a tradition unlike any other. It has been the subject of many odes and poetry; it’s the source of great admiration (and price tags to follow), and it’s a major source of income for Scotland. This week, we delve just a little into this glorious substance, and let the murmurs of whisky (without an “e” for this episode) drinkers of yore tell the brown liquor’s tale.
On this episode, you’ll learn:
- What makes a Scotch
- The different types of Scotch
- How to drink Scotch, and how to use in in cocktails
- When to just sit, pour a dram, and enjoy
Scotch, a Legal Question:
Scotch, to be labeled Scotch, must be:
- Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley
- Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% (190 US proof)
- Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks
- Aged for at least three years
- Contain no added substances, other than water and plain caramel coloring
- Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% (80 US proof)
Types of Scotch:
So there’s really two types of scotch: Single Malts and Blends.
Single Malts are mostly for sippin’—not a lot of mixing going on, usually, but some, like a super-peated Laphroaig—will pop up for a smoky addition to a cocktail, adding a savory body.
But scotch cocktails are most often going to feature a blended scotch. Both kinds are important to understanding how to use scotch in making drinks.
Blended Scotch Whisky:
A blended malt or blended scotch is a blend of different single malt whiskies from different distilleries. These are best for cocktails, as they are typically more affordable and balanced than single malts. But single malts have their purpose, and we talk about that below.
Bottles You Can Usually Find: Johnnie Walker, J&B, Cutty Sark.
Single Malts–Regions of Scotch:
Whisky is a tricky business, and laws and associations play a big role in keeping it that way. Just as with Bourbon’s laws, Scotch is governed by the Scotch Whisky Association, and they recognize 5 regions of Scotch, which often tell you a little about what’s in the bottle in terms of flavors:
Lowlands: The southernmost region of Scotland, the whiskies produced in this area are considered the most light bodied of all Single Malt Scotches.
Bottle You Can Usually Find: Auchentoshan, which seems hard to say out loud—and it is.
Speyside: Speyside gets its name from the River Spey, which cuts through this region and provides water to many of the distilleries. Despite its relatively small area, Speyside is home to more than half of the operating distilleries in Scotland. Speyside Scotch is considered to be the most complex and offers sweet aromas and rich flavor profiles.
Bottles You Can Usually Find: Glenfiddich, Macallan, and Glenlivet.
Highlands: The Highlands is by far the largest region in Scotland both in area and in whisky production. Given the expansive area, there is a reasonably wide range of styles from this region from the light and fruity styles of the southern Highlands to the more spicy styles of the North.
Bottles You Can Usually Find: Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and Oban.
Islands, an unrecognized sub-region includes all of the whisky-producing islands; scotch from the Islands is typically a mid-style that bridges the wide gap between Highland Scotches and Islay Scotches.
Bottles You Can Usually Find (usually in the Highlands section of a liquor store): Highland Park and Talisker.
Campbeltown, once home to over 30 distilleries, currently has only three distilleries operating. Scotches from this region have a heavy sea influence and one can detect the salt and brine as well as the peat.
Bottle You Can Usually Find: Glengyle.
Islay /ˈaɪlə/ eye-lah: This region is known for its peaty and strong flavored whisky. The single malts produced here are briny and smoky and extreme due to extremities of the sea that surround the area.
Bottles You Can Usually Find: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig.
Book on Scotch: If you’re an American, the name Michael Jackson is synonymous with the moonwalk and a bit of controversy. But in the world of Scotch, Michael Jackson wrote perhaps the definitive guide to whisky: Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide To Single Malt Scotch.