For a nation of only 5.4 million souls that ranks 117th in the world in geographic size, Scotland punches way above its weight when it comes to whisky production. You could quite literally spend the rest of your life exploring Scotch whisky—as the native spirit is known—and still not come close to sampling all of the several thousand brands of scotch in existence. That kind of breadth and depth can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. If you begin at the beginning—a logical starting point if there ever was one—and learn the basics, you can wade smoothly into the category and have years of enjoyment in front of you. Here, an entry-level menu of questions about the stuff that gets exported out of Scotland at a rate of 40 bottles per second (no, really: 40 bottles per second).
What happened to the “e” in Scotch whisky?
The word “whiskey” is spelled with an “e” unless it refers to the Scotch, Canadian, or Japanese versions, in which case it’s ‘whisky.’ That ‘e’ gets dropped in Loch Ness, or over the plains of Saskatchewan, or the Sea of Japan.
What makes a whisky Scotch?
Scotch is the name for whisky that’s made in Scotland. It must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Beyond the oak requirement, there’s no restriction on the type of oak barrel, so scotch can be aged in new or used barrels, ex-Bourbon or ex-sherry casks, and others, so long as they're made of oak.
What is single malt Scotch?
It’s very simple: single malt is whisky that’s produced at one distillery, from malted barley. That’s it. (Single malts can be, and usually are, composed of whiskies from different barrels, blended together, but they must all be from the same distillery.)
How about blended scotch?
Also simple: blended Scotch whisky is sourced from multiple distilleries, and they don’t all have to be from malted barley. They also include grain whiskies. They are then blended together to achieve a balanced, consistent flavor profile.