We’ve talked a lot of Bourbon whiskey and Bourbon cocktails but we’ve skipped over one of the oldest forms of whiskey out there. Or should I say whisky? Yes, I’m talking about Scotch Whisky. Christmas time is a great opportunity to visit Scotch. It’s a subject a fair amount of drinkers don’t really understand and the Scotch drinkers love deeply with extremely specific tastes. Just because Balvenie is Scotch, doesn’t mean it’s the same thing and good for a Glenmorangie drinker.
So what is Scotch? The old phrase, “All Scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is Scotch” applies here. Well, the basic answer is that Scotch is whisky distilled in Scotland. Its flavor profile is much different from an Irish Whisky, a Bourbon, or a Tennessee Whiskey. It has smokiness or a peaty flavor to it which comes from the Peat Moss used in the distillation process. Some people consider Scotch to have deeper layers of flavor and to be more complex than other styles of whiskey.
Generally, there are four main regions of Scotland that whisky comes from and they have very specific characteristics. The regions are Highland, Lowland, Speyside, and Islay. There is also another area called Campbeltown but the whisky is dominantly produced from the four areas mentioned previously. Lowland whisky is the least peaty and most easy to drink(Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie). Highland is a very excessable region and a step up in peat and weight from Lowland(Glenmorangie, Old Pulteney). Speyside has a healthy amount of peat but doesn’t require you to be a seasoned Scotch drinker to enjoy it (The Macallan, Balvenie, Glenlivet). There is more smokiness and salinity here. Islay is the apex of Scotch when it comes to smoke, saltiness, and peat (Lagavulan, Laphroiag, Ardbeg).
The main two types of Scotch that most people are familiar with is Single Malt(which means the whisky was distilled in Scotland at a single distillery from only malted barley and aged a minimum of three years and one day) and Blended(which means the whiskey can have different grains besides malted barley and come from multiple distilleries). Single Malt is known for being very expensive and having age statements on the bottle like 12 Year or 18 Year. That means the youngest whisky in that 12-year-old whiskey is 12 Years old. Some can be older but the youngest is what is stated on the bottle. Blended Scotch can have an aged statement but most are less expensive and much more accessible. One of the top selling Scotches in the world is a blended whisky. You may have heard of it: Johnnie Walker.
Johnnie Walker makes multiple Scotches year round but also makes specialty whiskies. It’s a wallet friendly gift and also a very well known producer. Johnnie Walker Red is the entry tier which is great for making Scotch cocktails like a Roy Rob, which is basically a Manhattan with Scotch instead of Bourbon or Rye whiskey, and the famous Penicillin. Johnnie Walker Black is a 12-year-old blended Scotch that will give most a run for their money. Of course there is the ultra high end Johnnie Walker Blue which is very well known for being silky smooth with sweet smoke and glistening on the back bar with that beautiful translucent baby blue bottle.
Now that you have a base knowledge of what I think is the most complex spirit out there, you can make a more educated decision when getting a gift for your favorite Scotch drinker. I mostly drink Bourbon or Tequila myself but I will tell you there is nothing like sharing a dram of nice Scotch with a loved one during the holidays with a roaring fire in front of you. Happy Holidays and Salut!