September 4, 2017
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
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
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
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
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!
Scotch Whiskies In Stock: