Monday, 16 January 2012

Pre-Whisky Fest Fun: Day 2

Scotch Whisky is such a huge area of the spirit world.  With dozens of laws and countless distilleries, it's not easy for the beginner to absorb all this information at once.  In hopes of helping those with little knowledge in the field of Scotch Whisky, I have compiled a beginners guide to scotch.

The Basics of Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky is similar to every other whisky distilled all over the world in the sense that is a grain based and oak aged spirit. What makes Scotch whisky unique is the dozens laws protecting it, and the various styles of distillation and blending that exist under the larger title of Scotch whisky.

The Basic Laws of Scotch Whisky

In order to protect the reputation and tradition of Scotch whisky, a lengthily list of legal regulations has been put in place. Of the dozens of laws, there are several key ones you should know:

  •  Made solely from water, cereal grains, and yeast 
  •  Distilled and aged exclusively in Scotland 
  •  Aged for no less then 3 years in oak barrels 
  •  The age statement on a bottle displays the youngest whisky in the bottle 
  •  Is a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume 
The Subcategories of Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky has five subcategories: Single Malt and Blended Malt; Single Grain and Blended Grain; and lastly, Blended Scotch.

The three main subcategories of Scotch whiskies are Single Malt, blended malt, and Blended Scotch. Single Malt differs from all other subcategories of Scotch whisky in a few ways:

  •  Uses 100% malted barley in the Mash Bill[1]
  •  Pot Distilled 
  •  Is a Product of only one distillery 

Blended Scotch does not follow such strict guidelines as single malt Scotch. Blended Scotch may be made from grains other than malted barley; unmalted barley, corn, rye, and wheat are other optional grains for those making blended scotch. Additionally the restriction of pot stills does not apply to the blenders.   Column stills may be used to distill any grain (with the exception of malted barley). Lastly, Blended Scotch always contains whisky from various distilleries across Scotland. 

Blended Malts fall somewhere in the middle of Single Malts, and Blended Whisky.  A Blended Malt still follows stick guidlines similar to that of Single Malt Scotch, but a Blended Malt may be made using single malt whisky from more than one distillery in Scotland.  The most widely available example of a blended malt is Johnnie Walker Green.

[1] Mashbill: A recipe that describes the proportions of grain used to make a particular whisky. For example, Bourbon Whiskey is typical 70% corn, with the remaining 30% being made from barley, and rye or wheat.

Tasting and Appreciating Scotch

Scotch is like any fine wine or Cognac, and should be treaded like so.  Scotch should be savored and sipped, not shot back like bad bar tequila.  Here are my basic dos and don'ts for getting the most out of your fine scotch.

  • Do: Take your time to appreciate your scotch
  • Do Not: Drown your scotch with soda
  • Do: Try your Scotch neat (no ice, water, etc.)
  • Do Not: Be Afraid to add a touch of water to open up the whisky.  But only a teaspoon at a time, or risk drowning your Scotch
  • Do: Use a proper glass:  Tasting glass, GlenCairn, brandy sifter, or even a red wine glass are best suited for appreciating the aromas of your fine Scotch
  • Do Not: Be a whisky Snob.  Be open minded to all varieties of Scotch: Single Malt, Blended, Single Grain, etc.
  • Do: Be reasonable.  There is no way to appreciate Scotch (or any spirit of that matter) if your sole purpose when drinking is to get drunk.  Like Robert "Drink Boy" Hess says, "Drinking just to get drunk, is like having sex just to get pregnant." 

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