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Scotch whisky

Scotch whisky, often called simply Scotch, is a type of alcoholic beverage made in Scotland. (The Scotch and Canadian spirits are called "whisky"; the Irish and American ones "whiskey"). The main distinction in the flavour of Scotch is from the use of peat in the distilling process. The name whisky is a transformation of the word usquebaugh, itself a transformation of the Scots Gaelic uisge beatha and Irish Gaelic uisce beatha, literally meaning the "water of life".

Table of contents
1 History
2 Methods of production
3 Types of Scotch
4 External links


Whisky has been produced in Scotland for a long time. It is generally agreed that Irish monks brought distillation with them while converting the Scots to Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. The first taxes on whisky production were imposed in 1644, causing a rise in illicit whisky distilling in Scotland. In 1823, Parliament eased the restrictions on licensed distilleries, while at the same time making it harder for the illegal stills to operate, ushering in the modern era of Scotch production.

Methods of production


There are two different distilling methods used to create Scotch whisky: grain distilling and malt distilling.

Grain whisky

Grain whisky distillation begins when the grain, usually wheat or maize, is mashed with water. An enzyme, needed to break down starches in the grain to sugars, is added, followed by yeast to begin fermentation. Grain whisky is distilled in a continuous operation in a Patent still, also known as a Coffey still after Aeneas Coffey who developed it in 1831. Only seven grain distilaries currently exist, most located in the Lowlands. They produce the majority of spirit (whisky before it has been aged) used in blended whisky.

Malt Whisky

Malt whisky distillation begins when the barley is malted, or allowed to begin germination. Malting releases enzymes that breakdown starches into sugars. The malted barley is then dried, often over peat fires, which adds much of the flavor to the final product. The dried malt is ground and soaked in water, disolving the sugar and producing wort, the sugary liquid. Yeast is then added, and the wort is allowed to ferment. The liquid, now at about five per cent alcohol, is called wash. The wash is moved into the pot stills for the first of two or three distillations. Once all the distillations are complete, the unaged spirit has an alcohol content of about 60 per cent by volume.


Once distilled, the product must be left to mature in old Sherry or Bourbon barrels. Bourbon production is a nearly inexhaustible generator of used barrels, due to a regulation requiring the use of new oak barrels. The aging process results in evaporation, so each year in cask is more loss of volume, making older whisky more expensive to produce. The distillate must age for at least 3 years to be called Scotch whisky, although most single (unblended) malts are offered at a minimum of 8 years of age. The older the whisky, the better the flavour, although they tend to level off after 25 years or so.

Colour is usually a good clue to the provenance and type of whisky. Old, sherried, whisky is usually very dark in colour - think Coca-Cola. Old, un-sherried, whisky is usually a golden-yellow/honey colour. Some whiskies can be almost clear, even after 10 years and more in wood. The late 1990s saw a trend towards fancy 'wood finishes' - reracking whisky from one barrel into another of a different type to add the 'finish' from the second to the maturation effects of the first. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling number 1.81 is known by some as "the green Glenfarclas": it was finished in a rum cask after 27 years in an oak (ex-Bourbon) barrel and is the colour of extra-virgin olive oil.

Types of Scotch

Single Malt

A Single Malt Scotch is an unblended Malt Whisky; all the whisky was distilled at the same distillery, and is not combined with grain whisky. Noted single malts include Highland Park, Talisker, The Glenlivet, and Lagavulin.

Regional variants

Scotland is divided into 4 regions and 2 sub-regions that produce Single Malt whiskies with different regional characteristics:

These characteristics are described by words like smoky, peaty, seaweedy, etc. As Blended Scotch and Vatted Malts are composed of several different whiskies, the whiskies are generally not labeled with a region. Single Grain whiksies are only produced in seven distilleries, under much very similar processes, thus regional variation is minimal.

Blended Scotch

A Blended Scotch Whisky combines grain and malt whiskies from several different distilleries. This is cheaper and generally considered inferior to single malt, however, over 90 per cent of the whisky produced in Scotland is blended Scotch. Blended Scotch Whiskies generally contain between 10 and 50 per cent Malt Whiskey, with the higher quality brands having the highest per cent malt. Master Blenders combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent "brand style'. Theoretically a blend based on several very good malts might be better than a poor single malt. (To quote Sean Connery: "Scotch, straight up. Any Single Malt will do.") Noted blended Scotch whiskies include Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, and Chivas Regal.

Vatted Malt

Recently, Vatted Malt Whisky, or Pure Malt Whisky, has appeared on the market. Vatted malts consist of several Single Malts mixed together in a large vat and allowed to age for a short time. Noted vatted malts include Chivas Brothers Century, which contains 100 single malts.

Single Grain

Another recent trend is the release of Single Grain Scotch Whisky, which, as it's name suggests, is unblended grain whisky from a single distillery. Single grain whiskies include Black Barrel and Cameron Bridge.

External links

See also Wikipedia:WikiProject Malt Whisky

With the exceptions of whisky, Scotch broth and other comestibles, a person or thing from Scotland is Scottish, not Scotch.