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SCOTCH
Scotch is a famous whisky which has become more popular over the past decade for what are known as "single malts."

The Japanese have even attempted "Scotch," going so far as to re-name some town in Japan "Aberdeen" so the product could be said to be more "authentic."

But "Scotch" is made in Scotland.

The Scots do make grain whisky, though. Corn, wheat, oats or rye can be used. But for the very best Scotch, barley is the grain of choice. Grain whisky is distilled in patent stills (which can be used continuously). Malt whisky distillers tend to use "pot stills" which are capable only of one batch at a time.

The barley may be imported from anywhere.  I've read that it's imported from the U.S. and Australia, as well as some being home-grown.   At least one producer, Springbank, offers a single-malt produced from barley which is grown in Scotland.

Once at the distillery, the barley is inspected prior to being saturated in water. Once moist, the maltmen then spread it out for germination. After a few days, four or five perhaps, it is considered "malted."

Next the "malt" goes to the kiln floor where it is dried by the peat fires below. This is a very important step, influencing the character of the final product.

After another processing step, the removal of the withered rootlets, the malt is then ground and placed in a "mash tun," a tub which can splash the malt and the hot water to form the "wort." Many distilleries no longer do all the work described to this point, as it's possible to buy the barley already "malted" and ready to mix with water. Yeast is added and the whole mess ferments forming a bit of carbon dioxide and alcohol. It takes about ten gallons of "wort" to make one gallon of Scotch whisky.

The wort then is transferred into a pot still for distillation. A couple of distillations are required to change the first product, called "low wine," into "whisky." Most distillers put their whisky into barrels at around 55% alcohol. In a humid cellar the Scotch loses some "strength," while in a drier cellar it loses more volume. I read someplace that something like three million gallons of whisky evaporate into the not-so-thin air in Scotland!!!

Scotland has 85 malt whisky distilleries as of this past year. There are, also, a half-a-dozen grain distilleries. "Grain whisky" tends to be a less distinctive product. Blended whiskies are blends of grain and malt whiskies. I read these are a "concession" of the Scottish people to the "taste of the mass market."

Some ninety percent of malt whisky production winds up in "blends." Yet malt whisky accounts for but about 10-15% of "blends." That shows you how humungous the grain distilleries are!!!

For example, Johnnie Walker Red Label is said to be about 15% malt whisky, while the longer-matured Black Label is about 35% malt. Chivas Regal, another famous blended Scotch, is said to be approximately 50% malt whisky.

The blending possibilities are endless. That's why each and every Scotch has its own particular characteristics. The drinker of Cutty Sark, for example, may find Johnnie Walker or Dewar's White Label not to their taste.

Scotch whisky must be aged a minimum of three years and a day. Blended whiskies tend to be sold younger, while fine single malts are, typically, matured for 10 or 12 years. Some are left in wood for 15-20 or even 30 years! Once the whisky is bottled, it stops "aging."

When you see a notation of "12 years old" on the label, that indicates the youngest whisky in the bottle is 12 years of age.

The cooperage used to mature Scotch contributes to its particular character. American oak barrels have often been employed in Scotland. These would be purchased from Bourbon producers. More recently it's become fashionable to import used Sherry, Port or Madeira wine barrels with the purpose of aging Scotch. The Springbank distillery has even imported old rum casks to age its Scotch!

Most of the distillers are willing to sell their precious liquid by the barrel. There are Scotch "negociants" who buy by the barrel and mature the whisky in their own warehouses. Some bottle at "Cask Strength," meaning these are whatever level of alcohol is remains naturally after cellaring. You'll need to either add distilled water to knock down the alcohol or fasten your seat belt.


Few malt whisky distillers, as it turns, even have a bottling line with which to bottle their wares. I gather there are a few companies which offer bottling services to the distilleries on a contract basis!


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