A short introduction
Scotch whisky is as popular as never before in its history. In 2018 the export sales have increased by 7.8% in value and reached an all time high of £4.70bn. Its popularity has been growing rapidly for the past years and with a passionate industry and community constantly building its reputation, more and more people are interested in trying different whiskies. At the same time an increasing number of people want to learn more about the wonders and secrets about whisky. And given you are here reading this, you belong to the same group of people: Constantly curious to learn something new.
A good starting point to explore is a look at the production of Scotch whisky itself. What does it take to create the lovely spirit we all know and love so much? Keep reading to find out!
I tried to find a good balance between easy terminology for beginners while also offering more complex details for advanced whisky lovers. And while it is a basic guide for now I plan on expanding it in the near future by adding more aspects for you to discover. In the end I’m learning every day just like you are and I’m looking forward to sharing this knowledge with you.
Scotch whisky - A definition
Before we take a look into whisky production itself, we first need to know what is Scotch whisky. Throughout history there have been many different takes on whisky and how to make it. Some ways have proven themselves more popular and successful than others and they shaped Scotch whisky into the product it is today. To ensure the standards and expectations of costumers and producers are met and to make sure that Scotch will always be recognisable as such, there have been laws and regulations established over the years.
In these Regulations “Scotch Whisky” means a whisky produced in Scotland—
a) that has been distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—
- processed at that distillery into a mash;
- (converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
- (fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;
b) that has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 per cent so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
c) that has been matured only in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres;
d) that has been matured only in Scotland;
e) that has been matured for a period of not less than three years;
f) that has been matured only in an excise warehouse or a permitted place;
g) that retains the colour, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation;
h) to which no substance has been added, or to which no substance has been added except—
- plain caramel colouring; or
- water and plain caramel colouring; and
i) that has a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40%.
The 5 types of Scotch whisky
In the same regulations it is defined what different types of Scotch whisky there are and how the are to distinguish from one another. All of them have to apply to the regulations above in the first place to be called Scotch whisky, before the detailed distinction is defined as follows.
To be called Single Malt, the whisky has to be distilled at a single distillery, made from no other cereals than malted barley and distilled in pot stills.
The main focus of this guide will be on Single Malts for now as it is the most popular category to people. But over time every category will get included and explained in more detail.
A Blended Malt contains of two or more Single Malts and that have been distilled at more than one distillery.
For a Single Grain Scotch Whisky any type of grain or a mix of different grains can be used, as long as it is distilled in one distillery. It also doesn’t need to be exclusively distilled in a pot still.
Single Grains are slowly gaining more popularity and offer a wide variety of interesting flavours. While some of them might be a bit harsher than a Single Malt, it can not be generalised and is well worth exploring.
A Blended Grain is a mix of two or more Single Grain whiskies distilled at two or more distilleries.
A Blended Scotch is a mix of one or more Single Malt Scotch whiskies and one or more Single Grain Scotch whiskies. Most of the times several Single Malts are blended with several Single Grains to get a more complex yet easy drink whisky. Even though Blended Scotch is often looked down on by whisky enthusiasts it should be noted that up to 90% of Scotch sales come from Blends. Blends allow distilleries and whisky companies to generate the sales and therefore liquidity to afford producing your precious Single Malts.
Now that we know how what defines a Scotch whisky, let’s have a look into the main ingredients to make it!