The regulations on Scotch whiskey production are set by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in Edinburgh, UK. The regulations are fairly straightforward. The spirit must be produced and aged in Scotland from water and barley, distilled to less than 94.8% ABV, aged in oak casks no larger than 700 liters for a minimum of 3 years, and bottled at no less than 40% ABV. Most Scottish distilleries control all parts of the production of their spirits. To the point of malting their own barley and often drying it with peat smoke. The smoke of this dry decayed vegetation can give Scotch its smoky note that sets it apart from other whiskeys.
Picts in eastern and northern Scotland were brewing a beer with heather in medieval times, but because of primitive brewing methods the ale wasn’t stable. Distilling this beer concentrated the beverage and provided much needed stability. The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland was in 1494 in a tax record selling malt to make “aqua vitea”. Over the next 150 years the popularity of distilling rises to become part of the culture. In 1644 taxes were levied on scotch whisky, which created a boom in illegal distilleries. By 1780 the illegal distilling (known as smuggling in the British isles) issue was growing; there were 8 legal distilleries in Edinburgh, and an estimated 400 illegal ones. Forty years later an estimated 14,000 illicit stills were confiscated annually and something had to be done. The solution was the 1823 excise act that sanctioned distilling with a license fee and tax per gallon of proof spirit. There was initial tension between legal distillers and smugglers, though the advent of Aeneas Coffey’s patent column still, allowed legal distilleries to surpass the illegals in quality and efficiency of production. This new still also allowed for a smoother and lighter whiskey, that was blended with bolder single malts to extend the appeal of scotch whisky to the rest of the world. In 1880’s scotch had its biggest boom when a famine decimated grape vines used in wine and brandy production. Since brandy drinkers had limited supply of their chosen spirit, scotch whisky became the new liquor of choice for drinkers worldwide.
Straight up in a tasting / nosing glass. try a little cool water to open up and enhance flavors.
There are five distinct types of Scotch Whisky that are clearly defined by the SWA. Single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended.
A spirit made from a mash of only water and barley and fermented with yeast. It is batch distilled in pot stills at a single distillery. What is in the bottle may be a blend of barrels from different years, but it will be from the same producer. The age on the bottle (i.e. 12 year) determines the age of the youngest whisky in the mix.
A lighter and more delicate scotch whisky. Like single malt, single grain whisky is solely produced at a single distillery. Barley and water are used, but other malted or unmalted cereal grains may also be used, commonly corn and wheat. This whisky is usually produced on column stills.
Sometimes referred to as “vatted malt whisky”, or “pure malt whisky” is a blend of single malts that are produced at different distilleries.
This is usually the hardest to find scotch because not a lot of it is made. Like blended malt, blended grain whisky is a blend of single grains produced at different distilleries.
This is a blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains. Blends are usually sold at a lower price point than single malts, and thus comprise 90% of scotch sold around the world.
Similar to Bourbon, American Rye Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Anejo Tequila
According the SWA there are five distinct regions where scotch whisky is produced. Each region has some flavor notes that tie them together.
Named after the River Spey, this region claims the highest concentration of scotch distilleries. More than half of Scotland’s distilleries are in this region. These whiskys are usually light on peat smoke, which allow some fruit and nut notes to shine. Apple and pear notes are most common in these spirits, along with honey and spice. Sherry is the usual cask of choice in this region.
Highland and Islands
This is the largest geographical area of the whisky regions, encompassing central and northern Scotland, and many of the islands surrounding the country. Because of the vast size of this area, whiskys here can be very different. Light whisky and slight peat smoke is common here, with some island and coastal varieties displaying a salt or brine character. Notes of fruitcake, honey, heather, herbs can be found here.
In the south of Scotland, just north of England lies the lowlands. Soft and smooth is the name of the game with spirits produced here. Most whisky here is triple distilled here to give a gentle and elegant spirit. Be on the lookout for notes of grass, cream, toffee, toast, and cinnamon and even citrus. In these light and luxurious whiskys. When introducing someone to Single Malt Scotch for the first time, a Lowland whisky is the place to start.
An island in southwestern Scotland that is all about their distilleries. The whisky here is big, bold, and smoky. Some examples are so intense that they have almost an oily quality.
While historically a big distilling area, only three whisky producers make up this region today. But their malts and whiskey are so unique that they deserve a category of their own. Whisky here is robust and rich. Notes of wet wool, salt, smoke fruit vanilla and toffee are common.
Add ingredients to a mixing glass over ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 brandied cherries.
Savvy cocktail drinkers may notice that this mixed drink looks familiar to a Manhattan, and they’d be correct. This is for all intents and purposes a scotch Manhattan. The drink was created by a bartender the Waldorf Astoria in the late 1800’s is named after an opera based on Scottish folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor.
Combine ingredients in an old fashioned glass, add ice, stire, and enjoy.
Drambuie is Scottish liqueur flavored with heather, honey, and other assorted herbs and spices. Many cocktail artists and scotch aficionados agree that this is a great way for a new scotch whisky drinker to approach this spirit.
Since Scotch Whisky can only be made in regions of Scotland, Black Flannel may at some point make a Scotch-inspired version of an American Whiskey – with peated malt for example. Because… you know… we’re a true small batch craft distiller. Duh!