The first written record of Scotch whiskey was in 1494 and since that time, Scotch has seemingly never lost its popularity. Case in point, a recent issue of Wine Spectator magazine had two glasses of scotch on the cover and a lead story called “A Wine Lovers Guide to Scotch.”
The Scotch Whisky Association notes that no one knows exactly when the art of distilling first occurred in Scotland, but it is pretty certain that the ancient Celts practiced distilling, and in earlier times, the powerful liquid was called uisge beatha, which is ancient Gaelic for “water of life.”
Scotch whisky is actually so named because it is a whisky that is only distilled in Scotland. Most of the time, especially in Europe, when someone refers to whiskey they actually mean scotch, but it can be confusing since Scotch whisky can be divided into five categories. There is the single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky, blended grain Scotch whisky, and blended Scotch whisky. All are uniquely different for a number of reasons, but the bottom line is that all Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years in Scotland.
To make matters even more confusing, there are three types of blends for Scotch whisky. Blended Malt Scotch Whisky with a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries; blended grain Scotch whisky with a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries, or blended Scotch whisky with a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
At thewhiskeyguide.com, there is a list of the six whisky-producing regions in Scotland, Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Campbeltown, Islands, and Islay. Although each whisky is unique, the malts produced in each region do hold a number of common characteristics. But the differences are the result of several factors, for example, the use of different raw materials, climate variations, and different production techniques.
Islay is a small island west of the Scottish mainland and is the home of many well-known malt whiskies. Although a few milder versions exist, Islay whisky in general is smoky, peaty, and salty with quite a bit of tang and tar thrown into the flavor. The island once had 23 distilleries operating at the same time, but the number of active distilleries is now down to seven.
As the name suggests, the Lowlands is a flat region without mountains. It is also the southernmost part of Scotland. Whisky from the Lowlands is smooth and slightly fiery. It is also very light in salt, peat, and smoke as opposed to many other whiskies. Lowland whisky makes a good aperitif.
Speyside is the most popular center for whisky in Scotland and are home to many distilleries. Many of the distilleries use water from the river Spey in their production process. A part of the Highlands, but considered a separate region because of its size, as well as the different characteristics of Speyside whisky as opposed to the other Highland Scotch whisky.
The Highlands is the largest of the whisky producing regions in Scotland. The whisky has a rich flavor and is smoky although slightly less so than whisky from the Islands. Compared to the Lowlands, Highland whiskies often taste very different from each other. This is partly due to the size of the region, which allows for greater differences in the microclimate, but variations in raw materials and production techniques also play an important part. Both the Highland and Speyside distilleries use the word ‘glen’ in their names.
The region of Campbeltown was once the whisky capital of Scotland. However, today, only three distilleries remain. And because of historical reasons, Campbeltown remains a separate whisky producing region.
It is not uncommon for people to confuse this region with Islay, but Islands is a different production region that includes the islands of Mull, Orkney, Jura, Arran, Shetlands, and Skye. The Islands whiskey tastes milder. As for the proper way to drink Scotch, that has been highly debated, but most real Scotch drinkers insist, it has to be straight. However, many who drink Scotch whisky neat say they do not want to spoil the taste by adding water. Equally though, many others say adding a touch of water, particularly if it is pure, soft spring water, (ideally the same spring water used in the making of the particular whisky), it serves to enhance the distinctive aroma and flavor of a whisky.
Mixed scotch drink recipes from www.scotchwhiskey.net
Ice, 2oz Whisky, Lemon peel
Fill glass with ice, add whisky and peel
1oz Whisky, 1/2oz Cointreau, 1/2oz fresh unsweetened
Shake with ice, strain
1oz Whisky, 1oz Sweet Vermonth, 1 dash Angostura
Mix in glass with ice, add cherry
11/2oz Whisky, 3oz Milk, 1tsp Sugar
Shake with ice, strain, add ice, dust with nutmeg
If lucky enough to take part in a scotch tasting, keep the following things in mind to make sure you get the taste just right. The required items for a scotch tasting include a clean tulip-shaped nosing glass, and a jug of bottled still water at room temperature.
First, pay attention to the color of the scotch, hold the glass up to a neutral background because the color is an indication of age and wood finish, and smell it as well. A dark rich amber colored whisky may have matured in an ex-sherry barrel from Spain, or it may be an older whisky.
Add some water to your whisky and nose the whiskey, the first nose will be alcohol, but note the other characteristics that follow. Hold your mouth slightly open when nosing in order to gain the best aromas.
Take note of the body weight of the scotch as you swirl it around the glass. Watch the teardrops form and run down the side of the glass. If the legs run quickly, this means the scotch is probably a light bodied or young whisky. If the legs take awhile to run down the side of the glass and appear thick, then it is probably an older, heavy-bodied whisky.