There’s a certain stereotype associated with Scotch whiskey and who drinks it.
It’s for the drinker with refined taste, the man or woman who enjoys sipping and savoring the complex notes in the drink versus chugging it down like a beer. It is drunk in posh lounges wreathed in cigar smoke, classy bars, and men’s clubs that smell like leather and wood.
All of this is probably true, but lots of other scenarios call for a good Scotch, too: intimate celebrations, dinners, or even relaxing in an armchair after a long day at work. It’s a drink that is special in its own right, not just because it’s a fine spirit, but also because of its history and the way it’s made.
A Brief History of Scotch
The first recorded instance of the distillation of the Scotch we know today was written down in 1494, in “The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland” (basically, a record of the Scottish treasury). This Scotch was probably used medicinally, however, not for social drinking.
Despite the first record of its existence, Scotch’s history probably goes back farther than the late 15th century. For instance, it is probable that the ancient Celts brewed up a drink very similar to Scotch, called “aqua vitae” (which is Latin for “water of life”). In Gaelic, the language native to Scottish, it was called “uisge beatha,” which might have morphed in regard to pronunciation to “usky” and, finally, “whiskey,” according to Visit Scotland.
By the 1700s, Scotch whiskey (spelled “whisky” in its native country) had become popular enough as a social drink to warrant mass distillation and production.
How Scotch Whiskey is Made
Scotch is generally made in a four-step process, although this can differ based on the type of Scotch being made.
The first step involves malting the barley, which means that the grain is placed in water and is allowed to sprout. The sprouted grain is then baked (usually in a kiln) in order to dry it out. Then it gets milled.
The milled barley, called “grist,” is mixed with hot water in a special contraption called a “mash tun.” A liquid is what results from this mixture (called the “wort”) which is used to make the alcohol. Any leftover solids are removed from the wort and are used to feed cattle.
The sugary liquid wort is placed in vats (called “washbacks”), and yeast is added to help the sugars ferment into alcohol. The resulting liquid is called the “wash.”
This wash is distilled and placed in oak barrels, or casks, to age. This stage is called “maturation.” It is during this time that Scotch develops its signature color and smooth taste.
Fun fact: in order to be called true “Scotch” whiskey, the alcohol must be matured in Scotland for at least three years.
Types of Scotch and Distillery Regions
There are five general Scotch regions in Scotland: Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay.
The Best Scotch You Can Buy
While there may be a debate about what constitutes a fine bottle of Scotch, there is a general unanimous consensus about the following bottles: they’re really tasty whiskeys.
- Glenkinchie 12-Year (Lowlands single malt whiskey)
- The Blended Whiskey Co. – The Golden Age Blend (blended whiskey)
- Ben Bracken 22-Year (Islay single malt whiskey)
- Old Pulteney Vintage 1989 (Highlands single malt whiskey)
- Glenmorangie 10-Year (Highlands single malt whiskey)
Whether you drink these neat, on the rocks, with water, or with ice, remember to sip slowly, note the subtle nuance of flavors, and, most importantly, enjoy.