WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
People have been distilling spirits in Scotland for over 500 years. Back then, the spirit produced was referred to as ‘uisge breatha’ or ‘the water of life’ as it translates from the Gaelic.
As the centuries went by and distillation methods improved, considerable advances in the creation of the spirit were made. We have monks to thank for spreading their distilling expertise as they moved from monasteries into the communities where they put their skills to use. News of distillation methods soon spread from village to village and some people believed the spirits could be used for a range of things including health preservation, prolonging life, helping with colic and even in the treatment of smallpox. There is, however, no evidence to suggest the distilled spirits had any health benefits.
The years ticked by and ‘uisge breatha’ became known as whisky. It had become an integral part of life in Scotland and was frequently offered to visitors upon arrival at their destination as a welcoming toast.
A revolution in the Scotch story happened when grain whiskies first started being produced in the 1830s. The blending of these lighter grain whiskies with the more intensely-flavoured malt whiskies widened the appeal of Scotch considerably. It was in this arena that a man by the name of John Walker built his reputation for blending and experimenting whiskies from the four corners of Scotland.
HOW IS SCOTCH WHISKY MADE?
Barley grains or seeds are soaked in water until they sprout.
When the grains have sprouted they are then dried and toasted in a huge oven called a kiln. In traditional Scotch whisky production, the kiln was peat fired which gave Scotch its signature peaty flavour. Different levels of peat smoke are still used today to influence the final smokiness of the whisky, delivering a wide range from heavily peated drams like Caol Ila to lighter ones, less exposed to peat, like Oban.
The barley grains that have been dried and toasted are now considered ‘malted’. The malted barley is ground and mashed with hot water and the resulting sugary liquid (called ‘wort’) is separated from the mashed grains.
Yeast is then added to the wort and it ferments. This takes between two and four days and after that time the liquid (or ‘wash’ as it is known) tastes quite similar to a beer or ale. It will have an ABV around 9% and how long it’s left after the alcohol is created, makes for a marked difference in the final spirit.
Now it’s time for distilling (heating and cooling) the wash in a copper still. By keeping the boiling temperature below 100C the water stays while the alcohol separates as a vapour. The vapour is then cooled back down and turns into a liquid. The end product of the first distillation is not strong enough to be called a spirit, so the process happens again in a smaller still. Distilling slowly allows for lots of copper contact, giving a light and delicate whisky. In contrast, a quicker distillation minimises copper contact and produces a denser, oily spirit.
Single malt Scotch whisky is almost always double distilled in this way, whereas single grain Scotch whisky is distilled in a continuous process in column stills, leading to a lighter, gentler style of whisky. After distillation, the spirit must be matured in oak casks (in Scotland) for a minimum of three years before it can be called Scotch whisky.
WHAT ROLE DO CASKS PLAY?
Anywhere between 30 to 70% of a whisky’s flavour will develop as it matures in the oak casks, because of the spirit’s interaction with the wood.
New oak casks give off too strong a flavour, so the majority of Scotch is matured in second-hand casks where lots of different flavours are imparted, depending on what the casks were used for previously. For example, American oak casks that once contained bourbon give sweet vanilla and coconut notes and a lighter colour, while European oak casks that previously housed sherry give the whisky a richer, fruity flavour and a darker colour.
WHAT IS BLENDING?
Blending is the part of the process where art meets science and several casks are blended together to create a consistent, balanced and excellent liquid. In the case of a single malt Scotch whisky, this is when a number of casks from the same distillery are blended together. In the case of blended Scotch whisky, it is when many casks from distilleries all over Scotland are blended together.
Blending is a highly-skilled process that involves mixing different whiskies together to create a final product that is greater than the sum of its parts. Each individual whisky has its own flavour and character, so it is down to the knowledge, expertise and intuition of the blending team to select the right whiskies at the right age to produce a Scotch whisky that is consistently exceptional.
SCOTCH IS MADE TO BE ENJOYED LOTS OF DIFFERENT WAYS
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy Scotch whisky. Some people enjoy it neat with no ice or water, but certain Scotch whiskies come alive with a dash of water, as it can help release subtle nuances in the flavour. Others prefer theirs on the rocks. Scotch whisky plays a hugely important role in cocktail culture worldwide and has done for generations, whether it’s in a classic Old Fashioned or something as simple and easy as a Scotch and soda in a Highball glass.
The process behind Scotch Whisky
TYPES OF SCOTCH WHISKY
Single malt Scotch whisky – produced using only malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills. It must be bottled in Scotland.
Single grain Scotch whisky – distilled at a single distillery but with the addition of other malted or unmalted cereals.
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, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Blended grain Scotch whisky – a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
CHECK OUT THESE SCOTCH WHISKY BRANDS FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THEIR STYLE AND RANGE:
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKIES
The world’s most iconic and best selling blended Scotch whisky: from the vibrant Red Label to the super-premium Blue Label - and beyond.
A pioneer of blended Scotch whisky dating back to 1825, Bell's continues to draw from the finest malts to create a rich, distinctive liquid.
Buchanan's blended Scotch whisky is an excellent example of quality. The brand stands for prestige and tradition and is well known, as such, within the Latin community.
Black & White
Black & White is a very accessible blended Scotch Whisky. Light, fresh and spicy with a hint of smoke.
Dimple blended Scotch whisky consists of over thirty malt and grain whiskies, and is produced by Haig, Scotland's oldest surviving Scotch Whisky distiller.
J&B brings together a blend of 42 single malt and grain whiskies for a smooth, delicious Scotch whisky that's ideal for mixing.
A blended Scotch whisky launched in 1909, named after the reputed oldest man in England.
Vat 69 is a Blended Scotch Whisky with a light, very fresh and slightly spicy taste profile.
White Horse is a blended Scotch Whisky with a full-bodied, peaty flavour and a warm after-taste.
Powerful and spicy, with a peppery finish and a touch of island smoke, the award-winning Single Malt Whisky is the only one on the Isle of Skye.
An unmissable Speyside Single Malt Whisky. Sweet and smooth with a warmth and cleanliness of taste.
This Single Malt whisky is a subtle take on western island smokiness down to its maritime location on the island of Islay.
A single malt constantly praised for its unique combination of North Highland and maritime qualities.
Established in 1869, Cragganmore is a Speyside Single Malt Whisky with a rich fruity taste.
A Lowland Single Malt Whisky, Glenkinchie is one of the handful of distilleries still operating in the region known as the 'garden of Scotland'.
As an Highland malt, Dalwhinnie is a subtle, floral and elegant Single Malt Whisky with a slight hint of peatiness.
With a scent of massive peat smoke, a subtle hint of seaweed and a deep, intense sweetness, Lagavulin is a classic Islay Single Malt Whisky.
Born of innovation, rich in character and tradition. Beloved of connoisseurs, from a Speyside few know. Re-born as a family of four fine, rare Single malt whiskies.
Oban, made on the western coastline of the Highlands, is a Scottish Single Malt Whisky with a distinct maritime notes that echoes its western island neighbours
The Singleton of Glen Ord, Dufftown or Glendullan are all Single Malts whiskies from The Singleton distillery in Speyside. Approachable, naturally rich,and with rounded flavour, they are ideal for those new to whisky.
Scotland's hidden gem, Haig Club is a Single Grain Scotch Whisky, made only at Cameronbridge Distillery - the oldest grain distillery in Scotland.
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE WHISKY REGIONS OF SCOTLAND: PART 1
As the world’s leading source of Uisge Beathafor hundreds of years, there’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to Scotland and its deep-rooted relationship with whisky
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