A Brief History of Scotch

Scotch Whiskey is relatively new to the world compared to most liquors that have been widely available for a much longer amount of time. There are few liquors that have taken such a hold as Scotch has though. A Scotch reminds us of some of the most inspiring and impactful people in recent history. Winston Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Jackie Gleason, and Mark Twain all come to mind as famous people who enjoyed a good Scotch. In fact, Scotch in Scottish Gaelic means The Water of Life. It has become a staple of the liquor community and has a faithful following. Scotch, specifically Johnnie Walker, is constantly in the top ten of sales for liquor worldwide. Not domestic, as in the United States, but worldwide!

Scotch was born in Scotland. Where else did you think it came from? Anyways, in 1494 a gentleman named Friar John purchased the ingredients to make round of Scotch. It has since gone through some changes because it was such a popular drink that many tried to bootleg it. In 1823, the Excise Act was put into practice and bootlegging and smuggling died out almost completely over the next decade.

You Have To Follow The Recipe

Scotch is a drink that is very highly regulated. There is a group called the Scotch Whiskey Association, or SWA for short. This group has it roots beginning in 1912 and formally being recognized in 1942. In order to protect the integrity of Scotch Whiskey the SWA set up a ruling set of guidelines for Scotch. Scotch Whiskey must be by law:

  • Be distilled in Scotland
  • Be Matured in Scotland
  • Be matured in Oak Casks for at least 3 years
  • Have a minimum ABV% of 40% or more

These laws are enforced by the definition of Scotch in the UK which was established and has been enforced since 1933. It has since had a dedicated Scotch Whiskey Act established in 1988 which not only defines scotch in the UK courts but also enforces it as a law.

Labeling Is An Important Part of the Drink

Scottish, English, Welsh, Australian, and Canadian whiskies use “whisky”, Irish whiskies use “whiskey”, while American and other styles go back and forth. Whiskey has an important tradition as well as the rules that regulate it. It is for this reason that you will find the kind of Scotch, the number of years matured, and the name of the distillery.

The label will tell you which kind of whiskey it is. 

  • Single Malt – a whiskey entirely produced from malt in one distillery. 
  • Single Cask – the bottling comes entirely from one cask.
  • Single Grain – is distilled at a single distillery and uses a single malt and whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals
  • Blended Malt – A single malt whiskey blended from whiskey made in different distilleries.
  • Pure Malt – can be found on old bottles to describe a single malt but is now prohibited.
  • Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey – is a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries
  • Blended Grain Scotch Whiskey – two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries
  • Blended Scotch Whiskey – Is a mixture of malt whiskey and grain whiskey

A Whiskey has an identifier on the bottle for its age as well. Macallan is one good example of a distillery that often offers aged Scotch. As with all Scotch Whiskeys, there are also rules around how and when you can label the bottle for age. When a bottle is labeled with a year it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age listed on the bottle is also known as guaranteed age whiskey. Bottle with no age are still guaranteed to be at least 3 years old as is required by law. Most bottles are not labeled because aging the product due to its popularity is hard to do.

If you would like a more in depth look at the history of Scotch then you should check out this book available on Amazon.

How To Drink A Scotch

With A Splash of Water

Watering down a liquor? Sacrilege! I know you’re thinking it so before you make a snap judgement on this one you may want to read this from The Society of Chemical Industry. 

“In a paper published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the scientists found that water chemically suppresses ethanol molecules (alcohol) as well as the flavors extracted from the wood barrels. Specifically, water decreases the impact of undesirable, immature aromas when wood matured spirits are consumed.”

So there.

Served Neat

This is essentially just drinking Scotch Whiskey by itself in a glass. However, the glass you choose is very important. You can drink Scotch neat in a solo cup if you want to but you’re kind of missing the experience. The best choice is a Whisky Snifter. It has a large bottom that tapers to a smaller opening at the top. This design is to bring out the aroma of the Scotch when you take a drink. Since the snifter does not have a large opening it centralizes the aroma right when you take a drink so you can appreciate the taste and smell at the same time. If you want to drink a scotch the right way you should check out this set of snifters.

Served With Ice (On The Rocks)

Die-Hard Scotch lovers will scoff at the idea of adding ice to their Scotch. If you are a beginner in the world of Scotch though, this may not be a bad idea. Scotch is a very aromatic and flavorful drink. In fact, most people find the taste and aroma overpowering. This is why having a Scotch on the rocks isn’t the worst thing in the world. In defense of Scotch lovers, adding ice suppresses a lot of the flavor and aroma. Adding a bit of water to your scotch is not the same thing as a continuous stream of cold water melting off of ice cubes.

In A Mixed Drink

Most people don’t typically think of Scotch as a great mixer for drinks but there are some really fantastic mixed drinks out there that include Scotch. A Rob Roy, is essentially a Manhattan with Scotch substituted for Rye Whisky. A Penicillin is Scotch, Lemon Juice, Honey, and Ginger and is named because of the old adage that all the ingredients were all at one time thought to be cures for the common cold. 

No matter what kind of Scotch or how you drink it, you are guaranteed to get a quality liquor. The laws and guidelines in place for Scotch make sure that you can feel comfortable knowing that it has been made in a fashion that is acceptable by law and tradition. It is not a drink for the faint of heart. It has a hearty and robust aroma and flavor to it that not all will find appealing at first but I know many friends who slowly turned into a Scotch enthusiast. Now that you know what to look for in a Scotch and how to drink it, you could be too. Drink responsibly and be sure to tip your bartenders and waitresses. Cheers!

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