What is Scotch?

by PaulGoodman67

This article answers the question: What is Scotch and explains the five main types of whisky that are made in Scotland.

What is Scotch? ‘Scotch whisky’, or simply ‘Scotch’ as it is commonly shortened to, is a general term for the 5 types of whisky that are produced in Scotland. The types of Scotch whisky are strictly defined by law and custom, according to how they are produced and what goes into them. All types of Scotch whisky are created by distilleries and aged in oak barrels for at least three years, however.

People have been making whisky in Scotland for hundreds of years, with the first written reference to it being made in 1495 by a friar in Fife called John Cor. Between 1644 and 1823 there were heavy taxes on whisky production which resulted in most Scotch being produced illegally.

Types of Scotch whisky

Barley fieldThe 5 categories of Scotch whisky are described below.

Single malt Scotch whisky is made using water and malted barley at a distillery using pot stills.

Single grain Scotch whisky is made with water and malted barley, plus a mixture of whole grains and maybe other cereals – it is important to note that “single grain” means that it has been distilled at a single distillery, not that only one type of grain has been used.

Blended malt Scotch is a whisky is a blend of two or more single malts from different distilleries.

Blended grain Scotch is a blend of single grain whiskies.

Blended Scotch whisky is the term used for a blend of single malt and single grain whiskies.

Out of the five types of Scotch whisky, the two commonest categories found are blended Scotch whisky and single malt Scotch whisky, with most single grain Scotch being produced purely for use in blends. Blends were originally created because some people thought that single malt whisky was too harsh.

Laws and labels

Whiskey barrelsThere are strict and detailed laws which apply to Scotch and help to define the whisky and its various categories. It is illegal to make whisky in Scotland that is not Scotch and you cannot use a whisky that is not Scotch in a blended Scotch whisky.

The label on a bottle of Scotch will usually tell you how many years the whisky has been aged. If the whisky is a blend, the number will reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. If there is no age given on the label, all you can assume is that the whisky has had at least three years of aging, as that is the minimum required by law.

Scotch whisky is usually between 40% and 46% abv in alcoholic strength.

Whereabouts in Scotland is Scotch made?

Bagpipe playerScotch whisky distilleries are generally concentrated in specific areas of Scotland rather than being spread across the country evenly. The relatively small Inner Hebridean island of Islay has eight distilleries, for instance, whereas the entire Lowland area has only three.

The biggest concentration of Scotch whisky distilleries is in the Speyside region. The Highland region and The Islands (which doesn’t include Islay) also have plenty of distilleries. The Campbeltown area, which traditionally used to have a high concentration of distilleries, now has only three in usage.

Updated: 02/12/2013, PaulGoodman67
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katiem2 on 07/23/2012

I love Scotch, being Scottish myself it is my go to whiskey of choice, in fact I have never drank anything other than Scotch. I'm currently enjoying one of my favorites (not at the moment) The Glenlivet, single malt 12 year old Scotch, I prefer the 12 year old Scotch myself in all my favorite choices.

Tolovaj on 07/02/2012

Thanks for this explanation. I was always wandering what is single grain Scotch but was too lazy to check...

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