Know Your Scotch

Scotch is a prototypical “power drink” enjoyed by movers, shakers and those who just like to act like one.  Although it is enjoyed by many, most guys do not understand the basics of scotch — such as the difference between single malt and blended scotches.  Blended scotches can contain upwards of 50 different single grain components produced by various distilleries, whereas a single malt scotch is produced in its entirety by one distillery utilizing a single production process.

There are very specific laws which regulate the labeling of scotch.  When it comes to blended scotch, each component of the blend must be at least 3 years old — and when quoting the age of the scotch the producer must refer to the youngest component within the blend.  The best scotch is almost always maintained as a single malt, so blends tend to get the lesser quality products within their mix.

Scotch is akin to wine in that it gets better as it ages in oak casks, but, unlike wine, scotch does not improve with time once it is bottled.  Consequently, holding a bottle of scotch for an extended period of time does nothing for its quality.  Most scotch aficionados prefer single blends, and each region of production has its own blend with distinct characteristics.  The primary regions of scotch production are Islay, Highland, Campbelltown, Lowland and Speyside.  Within each of these regions there are also subdivisions each producing scotch with unique qualities.

The final scotch product is a result of the distillery’s ingredients and processes.  The type of wheat, water and barley used greatly impacts the taste and aroma of the end product.  Although all distilleries use oak casks for storage while the scotch is being aged, some use casks which were previously used for sherry — this adds an additional element of flavor, and most scotch experts will immediately be able to tell if a given scotch was aged in this manner.  There are myriad variables which can be manipulated within the ingredients and recipe, and this results in a large universe of different single malts and blends for scotch lovers to enjoy.

Some enjoy scotch “neat” (simply in a glass with nothing else), while others drink it on the rocks or with a splash of water.  Many scotch experts believe that a touch of room temperature water helps to slightly dilute the alcohol percent enabling a more pure experience when it comes to taste and aroma.  Others insist upon drinking it neat, while yet others say that scotch should be enjoyed along with a small amount of dark chocolate which most efficiently prepares the palate to fully enjoy all of the facets of a fine single malt scotch.  There obviously is no right or wrong answer when it comes to these things — it is a matter of taste.

If you are new to scotch, try a few blends as well as single malts from various regions.  Experiment with each one neat, on the rocks and with a touch of water.  You’ll eventually come upon your favorite way to enjoy scotch, and you’ll become a scotch sophisticate in the process.

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