Complete Guide to Scotch Whiskey
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A Complete Guide to Scotch Whiskey:
The Overview

Scotch whiskey is a subcategory of spirited whiskey that must be made entirely in Scotland. This includes the distillation process, maturation process, and bottling process.

The popularity of Scotch whiskey largely resides amongst only the most acquired of whiskey drinkers. Because of its unusually peated and seemingly stiff taste, most leisure consumers find it to be a difficult taste to acquire. 

Because of its long history, Scotch whiskey is now being produced by an uncountable number of brands, both old and new, with more seeming to arise each year (who’s complaining?!). 

Related: How is Bourbon Made?

With that being said, if you’ve arrived at this article purposefully (by searching for a complete guide to scotch whiskey), you’re likely some kind of whiskey connoisseur (or at the very least, on your path to become one).

This article is a great first step!

What follows will be a discussion of what Scotch whiskey is, how it’s made, the history of Scotch, and a detailing of some of the most prominent Scotch whiskey brands & distilleries.

So, sit back, relax, pour up a glass of your favorite Scotch, and get ready for a lesson in Scotch whiskey.

What is Scotch Whiskey?

Before dining Scotch, we must first define whiskey in general. As a form of distilled alcohol made from barley, wheat, corn, and other fermented yeasts, typically aged in casks and barrels, whiskey is an alcoholic beverage enjoyed by millions around the globe. 

Coming in several forms such as Irish whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon, you can imagine that each bolsters its own unique palates, flavors, and tasting notes. The differences between each type of whiskey are several, inclusive of its origins, distillation process, ingredient profile, maturation process, and grain selection, among other factors. 

Scotch whiskey, in particular, is a type of whiskey made in Scotland, offered in either a malt or grain whiskey-type, with a third option being a blend of the two. Interestingly enough, Scotch whiskey, by law (yes, you heard that right! By LAW), must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three (3) years. 

Related: Best Whiskey Cocktails

Depending on what region you get your Scotch from will largely determine the flavors and pettiness of the scotch itself; whether Carmel notes, smokey accents, high peaty levels, or fruity aftertastes, among other characteristics.

These Scottish regions include Campbeltown, the Isles, The Highlands and Lowlands, and Speyside.

Scotch is undeniably one of the most desirable whiskeys on the market and has been for decades and decades. Of course, it may take some time for your palate to adjust, but once you’ve acquired its distinct taste, you’ll never go back. So, how is its unique taste & flavor made? Let’s get into it… 

How is Scotch Whiskey Made

Scotch whiskey is made quite similarly to its welcomed counterpart, Irish whiskey. Originally made from malted barley, its process largely depends on the type being produced (i.e. malt, grain, blended). With that said, below will be a detail of the broad step-by-step process of making Scotch whiskey.

Starting with the malting process, we begin with malting barley in water, mixing it with yeast, and creating the base alcohol contents. Depending on the flavor profile you’re going for, you may dry it over peat for the peaty, smokey notes adored by many. 

Next is the fermentation and distillation process. Once the liquid is fermented and the ABV% has increased, the distillation process begins, typically in a pot still.

Finally, once the ABV% reaches about 20%, It’s time for maturation. As mentioned earlier, Scotch is aged for a minimum of 3-years in oak barrels, however, typically for much much longer periods. 

All that’s left to do once the maturation period is complete is to pour and enjoy! 

The History of Scotch Whiskey 

Scotch whiskey, like most all whiskeys, has deep roots in history. Often referred to as simply “Scotch”, has its origins in Scotland, hence the name. The first site of Scotch whiskey dates back to the late 1400’s just after Irish whiskey was introduced. 

The very first distillery of Scotch was Lindores Abbey, distilled by a man of the name John Cor; If there’s one man to thank for this so-called “water of life, it’s him! 

Initially just made from malted barley, Scotch is now produced several different ways, creating some of the most famed spirits and awarded alcohols in the world. Scotch, as all whiskeys have, has come a long way. Some smooth, others stiffer, all decadent in their own right, Scotch boasts a long history but even a longer future.

Popular Scotch Whiskey Distilleries 

There are over 130 whiskey distilleries in Scotland alone. Compared to the mere 32 Irish whiskey distilleries, it’s quite the number. These distilleries, as discussed in the preface, are spread across Scottish regions inclusive of Campbeltown, Highland, Lowland, Islay, and Speyside. 

While some distilleries have been around for centuries, establishing themselves as authorities in the industry, the following is a list of the top six (6) distilleries, both old and new, of Scotch whiskey in Scotland:

The debate behind the oldest operational Scotch whiskey distillery is a controversial one. While you’d presume that it’d by quite simple to predate and historically derive at a conclusive answer, the history of whiskey, in general, is quite the uncertain one. 

With that said, it seems to be between the Glenturret Distillery (1763), the Bowmore Distillery (1779), and the Strathisla Distillery (1772, formerly the Miltown Distillery).  

As for the most popular, the Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery takes the cake. As its popularity grew, however, they never lost sight of their origins, continuing to this day to provide authentic Scotch using their original processes. 

Lastly, for those interested in the fun facts of whiskey, the largest Scotch distillery is the Glenfiddich Distillery! 

While the number of Scotch distilleries are immense, with more being added to the list annually, above are some of the most prominent, historic, and sought-after distilleries to date.

If you’ve ever taken a tour of a Scotch whiskey distillery,

I’d love to hear about it! If not, I highly recommend that you do!

A Final Word on Scotch Whiskey 

Scotch whiskey has lasted this long for a reason. Continuing to be a leader in spirits across the globe, Scotch is the primary choice for many whiskey drinkers. While its origins remain in Scotland, Scotch itself is available worldwide! 

From single malt and single grain, to blended and beyond, Scotch, whether aged for 3 or 30 years, is truly a spirit that satisfies. 

Stay Gold

About Todd Smidt

Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, High West, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world, drinking whiskey, and writing about it.

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