Scotch 101 - Single Malt

Scotch, neat
GAH!!! So much information...

What is Scotch? Why is it related to Scotland? What is single malt? Is there a double malt scotch? (no) How can I summarize this subject without falling into a coma? Or inducing one for that matter?

If I went into detail about scotch this would become a scotch blog so I apologize to the aficionados (like they're reading random blogs about nothing) who will feel I gave the subject short shrift but this is a beginners guide.

There a lot of whiskys in the world but only whiskys made in Scotland are called scotch.

There are two kinds of scotch. There is blended (Johnny Walker) which can be a mix of various types of scotch made with barley, corn, maize wheat etc. and single malt which is only made with barley and only from a single distillery. There are strict laws governing this. For example scotch must be aged in casks for a minimum of three years. For today's lesson we will be discussing single malt scotch for the sole purpose keeping things short. I have no prejudice against blended whiskys but I had to draw the line somewhere.

I'm only going to be highlighting the region of Islay, for peat's sake

Islay: Pronounced: eye' lah

This region differs from the other three regions the most. It is an island and uses peat moss on the fires used for drying the barley. This gives the region's scotch it's nuanced briny, smoky flavour that cork dorks use a hundred thousand words to describe. When I asked the most knowledgeable person I know, what is the best scotch to try if you're a noob, he said most anything from Speyside. Which is another way to say nothing from Islay.

His reason was because this region produces full bodied, strongly flavoured whiskys and if you are uninitiated you might find them overpowering. I came across a blog talking about Islay scotch here and he used a quote that I liked regarding a scotch named Laphroaig (pronounced la froigg'):
“This scotch will fight you, and win.”
I already wrestle with my still moo'ing 'black and blue' steaks...perhaps I might be down with fighting a robust scotch. (that was me saying that, not the islay blogger)

Incidentally, Laphroaig means: "nice mill by the bay". A lot of scotch names reflect the water source used for their production. Scotch contains yeast and barley in small proportions and one other ingredient in great proportions: water. So the water is an extremely important component which affects the flavour and if you have a good source you want everyone to know.

I wonder what "slow, moving, brown, sludge" is in Gaelic?

Recap: Islay single malt scotches are produced on an island surrounded by sea and use peat for fires that dry the barley. This produces a salty, smoky, textured scotch that makes it feisty and knocks you a good one if you don't have your dukes up.

I've been consulting web sites that discuss this matter of regional differences aside from Islay in detail and none of them seem to agree. Do I really need to go into details about the four regions? Islay is different from the rest in a huge way so let's just leave it at that.

Before I nod off however, there is one thing very interesting thing about a Speyside scotch named Macallan.

Reclaimed sherry cask used for Macallan scotch
Macallan produces their scotch the way it was originally produced a few centuries ago. Using aged oak casks that were originally used for Spanish sherry production. So on the above barrel you will see "Cardinal De Salis/Royal Sherry Co" branded into the barrel and also the name of a scotch company "Glenline & Son/Mortlach". This barrel was used by both companies. The sherry casks lend flavour to Macallan scotch and makes it distinct in that it is probably as close to the original taste of scotch as you can get.

People don't drink sherry like they used to so the producers of The Macallan buy casks for the sherry producers in Spain with the understanding that they will be sent back when no longer in use. This also makes Macallan a more expensive scotch but with a very interesting provenance.

I got a start on my information from the video below and it has turned out to be probably the best thing I found after all the research I did afterward. It's nine minutes but it is one of the best explanations, with visual aids, that I have come across. Except be warned Glennfiditch is pronounced: Glenn fih DITCH' not Glenn FIH ditch.


Tonya said...

I just started reading this, but had to stop just to compliment you on your "peat's sake" pun. Nicely done.

Tonya said...

Very good post. I adored it. I have a warm spot in my heart for Scotch.

Frimmy said...

re: Peat's sake
Thank you but I got that from something I read today. I canna take credit!

I have a warm spot in my heart for scotch. Also warm and screaming all the way down my throat to roil in my belly and cause me to breath fire out of my nostrils.

Tonya said...

I knew we were destined to be friends.

Unknown said...

I drink Cutty when I'm bored with vodka. Which is not good value-wise cause it's 20 bucks for a fifth of Cutty whereas a fifth of Smirnoff is only 15. Fuckedupness-to-dollar ratio favors Smirnoff.

Tonya said...

I have a bug bite on my tummy and it itches.

Frimmy said...

The zombie apocalypse might be upon us and you're worried about a bug bite? How big is the bite? Are you craving brains?

Anonymous said...

Also had to come congratulate you on "for peat's sake"

and I like how scientific Crabby is about his alcohol.


Frimmy said...

Crabbie's formula does seem scientific because there are much cheaper vodkas out there so I have to conclude that although they're cheaper they are not as liable to produce the desired degree of fuckedupness.


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