Drinking and enjoying Scotch Whisky
The image of middle-aged men with a cigar in hand, glasses of Scotch, is giving way to younger groups drinking whisky in clubs, bars and at social occasions. With more than 2,500 brands of Scotch sold in more than 200 countries, it is little wonder that the drink has now attracted more youthful drinkers who are enjoying its sophisticated flavours.
Scotch is enjoyed in a variety of ways in different markets, including neat, with a splash of water, on ice, and mixed with soft drinks such as cola and gingerale. This mixability has given Scotch more appeal, especially to a more mainstream market whose tastes are constantly expanding. A versatile spirit, Scotch is also renowned worldwide as a useful ingredient in many sweet and savoury dishes.
Origins of Scotch
Unique to the isle of Scotland, Scotch Whisky can only be called as such if it is entirely produced in Scotland. Passionate Scots are proud of their national spirit and there is a keen rivalry to the whiskey of their Irish counterparts.
Produced in Scotland with more than 500 years of tradition and heritage, Scotch is made with three main ingredients; malted barley, water and yeast.
Scotland distills both malt whisky and grain whisky, each of which involves a different production process. Malt whisky goes through five basic stages to produce; malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation in pot stills and finally maturation, which can take anything from the legal minimum of three years to more than 20 years.
Malt vs Grain
While malt whisky is made exclusively from malted barley, grain whisky is made from cereals such as wheat or maize together with a small portion of malted barley and is distilled in much larger stills known as Patent or Coffey stills. The smoky flavour of some Scotch originates from the process of drying malt over a peat fire before it is ground and mashed.
Usually distilled twice, the new Scotch whisky is then placed into wooden barrels where it will stay for a minimum of 3 years allowing it to develop and mature to the desired colour and flavour. As with any spirit that needs time to mature, the selection of barrels plays a crucial role in the quality of the final product. Scotch distillers never use new barrels, as they have no flavour to impart to the spirit. Instead they typically opt for barrels that have been used previously to age bourbon. Increasingly, sherry, port, maderia and other wine barrels are being used.
Once the whisky is ready, it is often blended with whiskies from various other distillations to remove the subtle differences between each batch. A blended Scotch whisky can be made up of as many as 50 individual malt and grain whiskies or as few as 12. It is the skill of the blender to ensure that the right whiskies are mixed together at the right ages, to produce a superior quality beverage. Blending is a skill that gives each different brand of Scotch its own unique characteristics.
Scottish law dictates that the label on Scotch must declare the age of the whisky and that this must refer to the youngest whisky in the blend. This allows for quality control and also protects the consumer to ensure that they know how old the whiskey is they are buying.
Like most top quality spirits, there is also a minimum legal bottling strength for Scotch whisky. All bottles must be at least 40% alcohol by volume (abv) before being sold.
Scotland also produces a large number of single malt Scotch whiskies that are not blended to ensure the continued high quality of the product. Single malts are made only from barley and are the product of a single distillery.
Although most purists would argue that Scotch should be consumed neat or with a little water, mixing Scotch with other flavours is becoming increasingly popular. As is always the case with spirits, use premium, internationally recognised brands that your customers know and trust to ensure you serve a top quality drink.