The Lowdown on Types of Scotch from Taster's Club
When it comes to Scotch, there is no shortage of options out there. Each Scotch whisky region produces its own unique twist on the classic spirit, resulting in many different types of Scotch. Read on to learn all about them along with a glimpse into what makes Scotch so different from other whiskies on the market.
What is Scotch?
Scotch is a type of whiskey made from grain, malt, or both, though it’s most often malted barley. To officially be considered Scotch, the spirit must be distilled and aged in Scotland for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. However, most Scotch ages for 12-25 years and some even up to 50 years. As well, Scotch must have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 40% or more.
Scotland holds strong legal protection over Scotch to uphold the solid reputation and high quality it’s known for. First defined in 1933 under UK law, Scotch is governed by the 1988 Scotch Whisky Act and updated 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations. These regulations govern the Scotch whisky industry today and cover everything to do with production location, processing, bottling, labelling, packaging, and advertising. The industry includes over 130 Scotch producers that employ tens of thousands of workers and export 42 bottles of Scotch each second to 175 countries.
Scotch vs. Other Whiskies
The whiskey alcohol category is a broad one, and there are a number of whiskey types and subtypes that differ depending on where and how the spirit gets distilled and what ingredients are used. To differentiate Scotch from other whiskey types, it helps to understand what whiskey is, to begin with. Whiskey is a spirit made from distilled grain, typically malted barley, that’s soaked in hot water. Yeast is added once the sugars are released and fermented into alcohol. From there, the liquor is distilled and aged in barrels. You can think of whiskey as the broader liquor category that covers Scotch and other types. So, all Scotch is whiskey but not all whiskey is Scotch.
What makes Scotch unique is that all production takes place in Scotland, including distillation, aging in oak casks for at least three years, and bottling. Scotch typically comes from six Scottish regions:
- Islands (not officially recognized by the Scotch Whisky Association.)
The spirit gets its smoky character from peat, which is a dense moss that’s lit on fire to dry the malted barley. Because of this process, Scotch’s flavor profile is more complex than other whiskeys, especially when you consider differences between single and blended malts. At Taster’s Club, we like to offer a variety of Scotches so members get a versatile tasting experience. Check out the five different types of Scotch whiskey and what makes them unique.
Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Single malt Scotch whiskey is Scotland’s “original” whiskey. The Highland region is known for this type of Scotch, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that it became popular outside the area and grew considerably.
Single malt Scotch whiskey is made from malted barley, water, and yeast in two or three copper pot stills in a batch process by an individual (or “single”) distillery. Every distillery creates its own unique character that comes from many factors, including fermentation time, size and style of stills and how they’re operated, type of condensers used, and amount of spirit saved. Typical single malts include notes of malt, vanilla, oak, nutmeg, dried fruit, and smoke.
If you’re looking for a solid single malt, give the Alexander Murray & Co. Deanston 17-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky a try. Its production process offers a nice and specific flavor profile. The distiller uses an open-top mash tun, and a waxy build-up in the “feints” receiver gives a waxy, honey-like character to the spirit. Medium gold in color, the Scotch smells of honeycomb and biscuity malt and tastes sweet at first, then dry. It finishes luscious and fruity. This whiskey is also part of the Vintage Malt Collection, which features single malt whiskies matured in multiple casks, offering layers of complexity.
Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey
As the name suggests, blended malt Scotch whiskey is a combination of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries. With this type, you don’t use grain whiskey but instead get some interesting combinations, like the Islay-influenced smoke and seaweed to Speyside’s typical rich, spiced fruit character. Blended malts can be so varied that they come from any and all Scotch whisky regions. They often carry notes of malt, leather, toffee, dried fruit, and vanilla.
You’ll get something special and unique with every blended malt you try, but why not start with the Murray & McDavid Ordha Meas 13-Year-Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky? It’s made from both single malt and single grain whiskies from all five Scotch whiskey regions. All whiskies were aged for at least 10 years in bourbon barrels, then sherry casks, and come from Highland Park, Glenrothes, Glengoyne, Port Dundas, and Cameronbridge. This process gives the spirit a sweet, fruity, and creamy character and a supple, soft body. Glowing amber in color, the blended malt has sweet, succulent aromas of preserved cherry, fresh apricots, pears, honey, toasty oat biscuits and shortbread cookies. You’ll taste red currant, clove, caramel, toasted oats, creamy vanilla and soft oak, with a refined, elegant finish sweet with ripe orchard fruit oak spice.
Single Grain Scotch Whiskey
Single grain Scotch whiskey is integral to blended Scotches, with its majority being made for the blended type. That said, there are a few specialty single grain bottles and every grain distillery has a different style. Most single grain Scotch distilleries are located in the Lowland and Highland regions.
Each single grain type must come from one distillery. It’s made by cooking unmalted cereal grains, such as wheat, oats, maize, or rye, and mixing them with malted barley to prepare for fermentation. Distillation is done with the efficient continuous patent still process, which was created and refined in the 19th century. With this process, you get a whiskey that’s light in character and high in alcohol.
Grain whiskey must keep some flavour from its ingredients. This, along with the spirit’s oak maturation (often in ex-Bourbon casks), gives a gentle, fruity and sweet whiskey, typically with notes of toffee, butterscotch, and toast. As most single grain whiskies age, they take on a velvety, refined character.
The Single Cask Nation Cameronbridge 26-Year-Old Single Grain Scotch Whisky is blended in whiskies from major blended brands like Johnny Walker, Bell’s, J&B, and White Horse. This bottle was distilled in 1992 and aged for 26 years in a refill Oloroso sherry butt. With just 449 bottles produced, why not take the rare opportunity to give this single grain a shot? It features aromas of cooked stone fruits, walnuts, and cured meats, along with dry, warm cinnamon, nutty sherry, and red fruits on the palate.
Blended Grain Scotch Whiskey
Blended grain scotch whiskey is simply a blend of at least two single grain scotch whiskies from different distilleries. This type of whiskey is naturally mellower than malts and is typically mild and light, with a few exceptions. Most grain whiskies come from the Lowland and Highland regions.
A Taster’s Club past feature, the flavorful and complex Compass Box Hedonism Blended Grain Scotch Whisky is from the Lowland region. It’s aged for up to two years in American oak casks and carries delicious notes of vanilla, toffee and caramel with a slight fruitiness and a pastry cream toasted coconut finish. Natural in color and always lush, creamy, and soft, this whiskey uses different blends each year to keep things interesting (whiskies are often from Cameronbridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas and Dumbarton).
Blended Scotch Whiskey
Blended Scotch whiskey combines malt and grain whiskies and makes up about 90% of the world’s Scotch market. The spirit is aged in oak for at least three years, and the production process is not easy and requires skill and experience. It’s primarily made in the Speyside and Highland regions of Scotland.
Blended Scotches were traditionally produced to soften pungent malts with the grain’s lightness. In more recent times, though, this type of Scotch whisky has both become more refined and subtle in a balanced and consistent way and also with different depths and complexities. You’ll often get notes of toffee, clove and oak in blended Scotch whiskies.
If you’re looking to acquaint yourself with this type of whiskey, check out the Douglas Laing Scallywag 13-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky. It’s a mellow, sherried whisky made from Speyside malts aged in Spanish sherry casks, including Macallan, Glenrothes, and Mortlach. The fact that this blend uses at least 13-year-old whisky means you’ll get that extra maturity and depth of character on your palate. In a deep, burnished gold color with a full and rich body, this Scotch gives aromas of sherry, raisins, fruitcake, and molasses. It tastes of sweet, dark sherry, followed by vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger with a mix of cereal. Finally, it finishes long and spicy, with a bit of lingering mocha.
You should now have a better handle on the different types of Scotch to choose from and what they’re all about, from single malt to blended and everything in between. So, now’s the perfect time to try some out and see what you like. A membership to Taster’s Club makes it so simple to experience all the characteristics and flavors Scotch has to offer, and it only takes a minute to sign up below.