All About Scotch Whisky

Scotland is the home of many things: bagpipes, haggis, men in kilts…oh, and Scotch whisky. Around Scotland there are more than 100 distilleries that specialize in malt whisky, most of which use traditional methods, such as the pot still technique, to create this popular elixir. Consequently, Scotland is a wonderful place to visit on vacation in the UK if you can’t say no to a Scotch on the rocks.

But how on Earth did Scotch come about?

Initially, whisky was known as uisge beatha, which means “water of life” in Gaelic. It was based on distilled malted barley and taken for its medicinal qualities, being prescribed for the preservation of health, the prolongation of life, and for the relief of colic, palsy and even smallpox. It was often prepared by monks, who pioneered many of the early distillation techniques.

Over the years, the art of distilling in Scotland has been perfected. And they’ve certainly had some time to practice as records mentioning distilling have been found that date back to 1494, although it is likely that the process was already well established by that time. In those days, without the scientific expertise used by distilleries these days, it is likely that Scotch was an incredibly potent drink and may even have been harmful, despite its medicinal use. However, by the 16th and 17th centuries considerable advances had been made with regards to distillation and Scotch became a feature of Scottish social life and was given to house guests as a welcome drink.

In 1831 Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still, which allowed continuous distillation of malt whisky. This actually then led to the development of grain whisky, which is considered to be less intense and lighter in flavor compared to malt – grain whisky was then blended with malt whisky to create a variety of flavors and Scotch consequently grew as a popular drink. However, single malt whisky is still revered in Scotland, although there are still plenty of popular blends too.

This leads us neatly on to the different categories of Scotch whisky, of which there are five:

  • Single Malt Scotch Whisky: A Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery.
  • Single Grain Scotch Whisky: A Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery.
  • Blended Scotch Whisky: A blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
  • Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: A blend of single malt Scotch whiskies that have been distilled at more than one distillery.
  • Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: A blend of single grain Scotch whiskies that have been distilled at more than one distillery.

Consequently, if you try one type of Scotch and don’t enjoy it, we highly recommend that you try another type as the different categories and distilleries have very different flavors.

How to enjoy Scotch whisky
The best way to enjoy Scotch whisky is however you like it! However, if you want to “make like the locals” then you can enjoy it neat or with a little water as they do in Scotland. That said, you could also follow the example set by Scotch drinkers in Tokyo, who drink it “mizawari” (diluted with lots of water), or enjoy it with ice and cola like the Spanish do. One of our favorites is the Shanghai Scotch, where the whisky is diluted with ice and cold green tea – a perfect summer’s drink.

So what’s the deal with Irish whiskey?
Good question. Well, first there’s the spelling: some historians claim that 19th century Irish distillers added the “e” to “whisky” to distinguish themselves from the sub-standard Scotch that was flooding the market at the time. We couldn’t possibly comment.

In addition, while Scotch is generally made from malted barley (possibly with the addition of whole grains, as described above) and aged for no less than three years in oak barrels, Irish whiskey may be made from any yeast-fermented cereal grain. It too must be aged for at least three years, but any wooden cask may be used.

These relaxed rules mean that a larger diversity of whiskies may be produced and Irish whiskey is often commended for its smooth consistency thanks to the double and triple distillation method that is often employed in it production.

If you would like to learn more about this iconic drink, we highly recommend our Scotland and Ireland Whiskey Tour, which takes you to some of the best global distilleries, where you can sample rare whiskies and learn the fascinating history of distillation. You can also decide for yourself which is better: Scotch or Irish whiskey!

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