The Scottish landscape is a poetic one, with its rich heathers, majestic mountains, and the mist rolling in from the sea. This lyricism permeates Scottish culture from its old Latin name of Caledonia, to its fame as ‘the land of cakes’ after its oatmeal cakes, to the mythic Loch Ness monster, and Scotland’s dramatic history of clans. It is Scotch whisky that has most successfully translated this lyricism the world over, through its pure quality, its subtle aromas and golden glow that brings you back to the power of Scotland every time it is savoured.
Only once you are standing on the soil of Scotland can you be sure you are tasting real Scotch whisky. Outside of Scotland, “Scotch” whisky is often not real Scotch. In Scotland, the law mandates that anything labelled as “Scotch” has been matured for a minimum of three years in an oak cask. Genuine Scotch whisky is also distilled twice, if not thrice, in Scotland. Some of the finer varieties of Scotch whisky may even be distilled up to twenty times for their signature effect.
Scotch whisky has been produced in Scotland for as far back as anyone can remember. It is part of the soul of the country which is clear when you discover the source of the word whisky, an anglicized version of the Scottish Gaelic Uisge Beatha, pronounced ‘oosh-guh-beh-huh’, which means water of life.
There are two types of Scotch whisky – malt whiskey and grain whiskey. Malt whisky is made from malted barley, while grain whiskey is made from corn, rye or wheat. Single malt whisky indicates that it was produced at a lone distillery whereas a blended malt whisky is a combination of malt whiskies produced at different distilleries. A blended whisky is a combination of malt and grain whisky.
Malt whisky also varies by region. In Scotland, there are five main areas of whisky production: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Campbeltown and Speyside.
Whisky tasting is as much an art as a science. The first step is the selection of the glass. A tulip-shaped sherry glass/copita glass/Glencairn whisky glass should be selected rather than a tumbler-style glass. This is because a tumbler will result in the whisky being warmed by body heat through its broad grip, and that its wide mouth allows the fumes to escape easily.
- Visual inspection: The glass is held at a 45° angle against the light and its color/texture examined. Using a cask of Spanish and European Oak lends the whisky more color than American White Oak. A cask that was used formerly for sherry results in the whisky having a copper color, while a bourbon cask gives it a golden color. A lighter color also indicates a much-used cask.
- Aroma: Holding the glass upright above your nose allows the aromas time to rise. This will enable you to experience the first aromas from the type of barley and its malting. Secondary aromas are from fermentation and distillation, such as yeasty, metallic and milky aromas, and finally tertiary aromas from ageing are linked to the casks. These scents could be vanilla, spicy, winey or woody aromas.
- Taste: The glass is swirled and a small amount of the spirit tasted. The tongue can identify only salt, sweet, sour, and bitter tastes, but a different combination, sometimes along with a unique aroma, is what makes each type of Scotch whiskey distinct. If you like it, the whisky is watered down to 20-30% strength for consumption in larger quantities. Don’t worry, the taste tends to linger in your mouth.
Why not enjoy a whisky tasting tour and learn more about the fascinating history of whisky production in Scotland? We can offer you the opportunity to experience a custom-designed, guided tour that takes you to various distilleries in the whole of Scotland so that you can appreciate the finer differences of Scotch whisky.
Call 800.832.1848 or 212.757.5797 to talk to one of our destination experts or browse our itineraries here and start planning your trip today.