Scotch for Dummies

There are some that think that whisky is just whisky.

If you are one of these people then this article is not for you. Not because you don’t know any better but only because you obviously don’t care. If you don’t know that there is a difference between rye, bourbon, Irish, Scotch and blends between all of the above, then whisky apparently isn’t your thing. No judgment. We are indiscriminate drinkers that have and will cover vodka, gin, cognac and every other spirit! We will catch you one of these days when we hit your alcohol of choice. So complex, however, is the world of whisky that we can only focus on one variety right now. Scotch. If you endeavor to delve into the increasingly popular realm of cigars and whisky but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry. We are here for you! (Subscribe to make sure that you don’t miss our upcoming piece on stogies.)

Now if you know the difference between Scotch and Irish whisky and thought that this fact made you some sort of aficionado, We are so very sorry for there are many different types of Scotch alone! Scotch whisky consists of five distinct categories: 

  • Single malt Scotch whisky 
  • Single grain Scotch whisky
  • Blended malt Scotch whisky
  • Blended grain Scotch whisky 
  • Blended Scotch whisky

While there are all of these different varieties, there are three unifying facts that are required of all of them to be Scotch. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Also, we have all seen liquors that are maybe 35% (70 proof) alcohol. Those are usually some type of spirit that has some sweetness added (Like Captain Morgans, Southern Comfort or one of the three thousand varieties of flavored vodka that proliferate the shelves behind the counter with the lottery machine). Well if the alcohol content ain’t 40% or 80 proof? It ain’t scotch. That is a steadfast rule of scotch and an actual law for us snooty barflies. Lastly, all Scotch must be distilled in Scotland.

A shot of liquor is a shot of liquor. Unless it is scotch. A unit of scotch is referred to as a “dram”. Now pay attention! Whatever type of scotch that you land on, be it a single malt or a blend, there are only four ways to order a scotch drink. While you can order a Whisky sour using bourbon or an Old Fashioned or Manhattan that consists of rye or bourbon, ONLY order scotch one of four ways. 1. Scotch on the rocks,  2. Scotch with water, 3. Scotch and soda or our favorite, 4. Scotch neat. There are drink recipes that utilize scotch like Scotch Sours, etc. But just stop. Don’t embarrass yourself…

If you are going to drink scotch? Then drink scotch damnit!

If you are looking for a whisky that actually tastes good, then there is a scotch for you without adding Sunny D or something equally as silly. The flavors of scotch ranges from smoky to delicate and from light to rich. The most common scotch flavors profiles are smoke, seaweed, brine, and apple. There are five Scotch Whisky regions of Scotland – Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. Each offers a different perspective on scotch whisky. Many scotch purists refer to how “peaty” the flavor of different brands are or from which region the scotch is distilled. For simplicity sake, “peat” flavor can be broken down simply to the level of smokiness in your glass. Peat is harvested on a grand scale in Scotland. Want to know why? Because the Scottish take scotch very seriously! Huge agricultural machinery exists solely for the extraction of peat. The Scottish invest the money on the machinery and the time to harvest peat just for US to have a pleasant whisky experience! Aren’t they just special?!! Beginning to see what the big deal is now aren’t you?!!

The region of Islay is renowned for cutting no corners on the peat level. Any brand from Islay is sure to make you feel like “Why do I even need this cigar? I have a glass full of liquid smoke already!” Islay brands include Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Bruichladdich. On the other end of the spectrum, Speyside is known for producing more fruity and nutty liquors and are less peaty. Speyside is home to such popular brands as The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, The Macallan and The Glenlivet. 

So now you have enough rudimentary scotch knowledge to not get a side eye at the bar. The good news is that, like we did our Vodka Showdown series, a Scotch Showdown is imminent so we will cover all the brands mentioned above and more. We will also compare single malts to other single malts and single malts to blends and blends to single grains and and and….

Yeah. Poor us. So much work to do.

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