Scotch whisky is generally classified as malt whisky, grain whisky or blended whisky. Malt whisky is made from malted barley, whereas grain whisky is made from malted barley and unmalted cereals, such as maize or wheat. The majority of Scotch whisky drunk worldwide has been blended with a combination of malt and grain whiskies.
What is Scotch Whisky and What Makes it Different to Other Whiskies?
Whisky must be distilled in Scotland, and matured in casks in Scotland, for at least three years, if it is to be lawfully classified as Scotch whisky. Single malt Scotch whiskies are usually left to mature for much longer, sometimes for over 20 years. Maturation allows a whiskey’s aromas (often referred to as the ‘bouquet’) and flavour to develop.
Scotch whisky has its own unique bouquet and flavour, and is quite different to other whiskies made in other parts of the world, such as Irish Whiskey. For example, Islay malt whiskies are renowned for their heavy, peaty taste. It is not known exactly what makes Scotch whisky quite so unique, but distillation methods, fresh Scottish spring water, the Scottish climate, and the peat used in the malting process, are all thought to play a part.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Highland, Islay, Lowland, and Speyside
A single malt whisky is the product of one distillery only, from which it takes its name, and has not been mixed with any other whisky produced by any other distillery. The four main types of single malt Scotch whisky are:
- Highland single malt whiskies – produced by distilleries in the Scottish Highlands. Some of these include: AnCnoc, Balblair, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne, Glenmorangie, Old Pulteney, The Dalmore and Tullibardine.
- Islay single malt whiskies – produced by distilleries situated on the Island of Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Some of these include: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Bruichladich, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
- Lowland single malt whiskies – produced by distilleries in the Scottish Lowlands. Some of these include: Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Bladnoch. A number of other Lowland single malt whiskies are still available but their respective distilleries are now closed.
- Speyside single malt whiskies – produced by distilleries near the River Spey, in the north-eastern Scottish Highlands. Some of these include: BenRiach, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray, Knockando, Speyburn, The Balvenie and The Glenlivet.
Unlike malt whisky, grain whisky can be distilled anywhere and its production does not depend on a particular location in Scotland. Grain whiskies are quicker and cheaper to produce and so are used mainly for blending, but this does not mean they are not good to drink. They have a much lighter flavour than malted whiskies, and some popular examples include: Caledonian, Cambus, Cameron Bridge, Dumbarton and Strathclyde.
Scotch Whisky Blends and the Scotch Whisky Blending Process
When blending a Scotch whisky, it is important to take into account the specific whiskies that go into it, how old they are, how well they blend with each other and in which proportions they work best. Whiskies are combined in such a way so as to enhance the flavours of the component whiskies in the blend. A blended Scotch whisky can contain as many as 50 different single whiskies.
Whisky blending is a finely honed skill, developed through many years of experience, and performed by someone with the title of ‘master blender’. Master blenders have the final say in the types and amounts of whiskies that are added to a blend, and they determine this decision by their finely tuned sense of smell. When creating a blended Scotch whisky, the master blender has to match the combinations of whiskies to those found in previous batches of that particular blend.
Some examples of popular blended Scotch whiskies include Bells, Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse, J & B Rare, Johnnie Walker, Teacher’s and William Grant.