Scotch whisky, commonly referred to as Scotch, has its origins in Scotland. Before the 18th Century, Scotch was produced from malted barley, whereas wheat and rye were used much later in the production of Scotch whisky.
A minimum 3 year aging in oak barrels is a pre-requisite in scotch production.
Scotch Whisky Association states that Scotch whisky came from the Scottish drink uisge beatha or “the water of life”. The year 1494 is documented as the earliest period of whisky distillation in Scotland. Exchequer Rolls, the record of royal income and expenses, mentions eight bolls of malt provided to Friar John Cor, a distiller at Lindores Abbey.
The first taxation on whisky production was levied in 1644, which subsequently led to illegal whisky distillation in the nation. From 1760s and 1830s, which also witnessed the Napoleonic wars, unlicensed whisky in Highlands became a major export.
The illegal Highland trade was favoured due to heavy taxes during war, its better grade of whisky and the support of Highland magistrates, who were landlords of unlicensed distillers.
During this period, a number of illicit distilleries began to flourish in Scotland, one of which belonged to George Smith, who was laying foundations of The Glenlivet single malt brand in Moray in the Speyside region of the country.
In order to control this situation, Parliament relaxed the “Excise Act” for licensed distilleries as well as tracked illegal operations. The following events resulted in a modern phase for scotch whisky with duties paid on 1823,2,232,000 gallons of whisky. Later in 1831, the introduction of the ‘column still’ proved to be cost-efficient and less time consuming than the continuous distillation process. Scotch whisky gained further demand with the reduced cognac and wine production in France due to the phylloxera bug.
It’s better to understand types of Scotch whisky, before getting acquainted with the list of Scotch whisky types.
Scotch whisky is segregated into single malt, blended malt, single grain, blended grain and blended Scotch whisky.
Single malt Scotch whisky is produced only with malted barley and water by batch distillation in pot stills at a single distillery.
Single grain scotch whisky is produced in a single distillery with additional whole grains of malted or unmalted cereals along with malted barley and water.
Blended malt Scotch whisky is a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
Blended grain Scotch whisky is a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
Blended Scotch whisky is a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies along with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
Some premium quality grain whisky produced in a single distillery is kept as a single grain whisky. But majority of the grain whisky production is used for blended Scotch whisky, where an average blended whisky contains 60-85 percentage of single grain whisky.
A spirit that passes as single malt whisky or blended malt whisky is excluded from the term of “single grain scotch whisky”. This is done so that blended Scotch whisky from a single malt and single grain is not confused as single grain Scotch whisky. Initially called as pure malt or vatted malt, blended malt whisky is considered as one of the least common types of Scotch whisky.
Among the four regions of Scotland, a huge number of distilleries are concentrated in Speyside and thus designated as a distinct region by Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
Followed by this, is the Highlands with numerous distilleries contributing to the whisky production.
Apart from the Speyside and Highlands, the Lowlands, Campbeltown and Islay are the other three regions of Scotland’s Scotch making regions recognized by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The Lowlands, Campbeltown and Islay have five, three and eight distilleries respectively.
The production, packaging, labelling and advertising of Scotch whisky in United Kingdom is certified and controlled by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). As per Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (SWR), a whisky is qualified as “Scotch whisky” only if it is produced in a distillery and aged in an exercise warehouse in Scotland. Apart from water and caramel colouring, whisky should not contain any other additions and should keep the colour, taste and aroma of raw materials with a minimum 40% alcohol volume strength.
The Scotch whisky label has to mention production aspects, bottling, aging and ownership, of which some of these factors are defined by SWA.
The Glenlivet, The Balvenie, Aberlour, Macallan and Talisker are some of the most well-known single malt Scotch whiskies from Scotland.
Although, Scotland’s whisky production consists 90 percent of blended Scotch whisky which is made of multiple malts and grain whiskies. Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Cutty Sark are some of the prominent blended Scotch whisky names.
Monkey Shoulder in blended malts and Haig Club for grain whisky are also good examples of other kinds of Scotch whisky besides the aforementioned categories.