Modern Gentlemen are enjoying and re-discovering Scotch, so we thought it would be fitting to write an introductory course about this great Spirit. According to W.C. Fields, “the best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch”. With that endorsement we set out on a quest to calm the nerves with the knowledgeable Gentlemen from Hi-Times Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA (Forrest Cokely & Tobin Sharp). This will be our first article published in a Q & A format.
– What is Scotch?
Well the simple answer is: Whisky that is made in Scotland.
There are five specific and very different categories:
Blended Scotch Whisky: Easily the best selling of all the varieties, it is a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies that is crafted to a particular flavor profile designated by each brand and carried out by Master Blenders.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky: This is the second most popular style and the one everyone likes to obsess about. Scotch Whisky is produced at a single distillery from the mash, to the fermentation, to the batch distillation in pot stills using only water and malted barley. This seems like a good time to interject that all Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years before it even can be called Scotch whisky. If there is any age statement on a bottle of Scotch whisky it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in that product. So if you see a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 you are assured that ‘the youngest’ whisky in that bottle is 12 years old.
Single Grain Scotch Whisky: Growing in notoriety, Single Grain Scotch Whisky is distilled at a single distillery but may involve other malted or unmalted whole grains and utilize varied still types.
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: This is the latest name to describe a blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries. It has also been called “vatted malt” or “pure malt.”
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: This is fairly hard to find, but it is a blend of two or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies from different distilleries.
– Does Scotch go by another name (layman terms?)?
Whisky, Blend, Single Malt, (The word whisky (or whiskey) is an anglicisation of the Gaelic word uisce|uisge meaning water. Distilled alcohol was known in Latin as aqua vitae = “water of life”. This was translated to Gaelic as Irish: uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic: uisge beatha = “lively water” or “water of life”. Early forms of the word in English included uskebeaghe (1581), usquebaugh (1610), usquebath (1621), usquebae (1715).
– How is Whisky different than other types of alcohol?
It is distilled from grains and water to a proof that does not completely strip away the flavor of the original grain and it must be aged in oak.
– What is the process for making Scotch?
This is a fairly intricate question that has a myriad of facets, but I will try to simply outline the process focusing on Single Malt. First step is the barley is tricked into thinking it spring by steeping it in warm water until it begins to sprout. This process creates an enzyme called amylase which converts the difficult to access starches into easily accessed sugars. Then the sprouting is stopped by heating up the barley, a mash of the malted barley is made and yeast is thrown in to begin fermentation. After fermentation the ‘beer’ is distilled, at least twice in a pot still and the ‘heart’ of the distillate is set to age in oak.
– What are traditional drinks made with Scotch?
Well there are a few, but some popular ones are: Rob Roy, Rusty Nail, Scotch & Soda, Blood & Sand, Godfather, Bobby Burns, Whisky Mac, etcetera…
– What is important in choosing Scotch? year? brand? region? etc…
Personal preference should be the only governance in choosing.
My coworker Tobin Sharp, had this to add: “Though it is a good idea to sample a variety of whiskies from the various regions to see what tickles the palate, i.e., Highland Speyside against Islay, Lowlands, Skye, Orkney, etc. We’re also seeing many interesting choices in oak barrels used to age whisky in, from traditional sherry and bourbon to rum and wine casks, which influence the outcome of the whiskies in nose and palate.
– Give me recommendations for: Entry level, intermediate, Moving up the ladder, and I just got married and want to celebrate like money is not an obstacle!
These would vary DRAMATICALLY according to personal preferrence, so I usually do this on a “person-to-person” level.
My coworker Tobin Sharp, also had this to add: “Another place where sampling comes into play… 50ml bottles or whisky tastings are a good option. I tend to recommend Highland Speyside malts as a starting point with more northern distilleries and Islay whiskies for the intermediate to ‘beyond’ range, with longer-aged whiskies certainly going ‘beyond’ in price, although there are some lesser-known aged whiskies that are quite a good deal when compared to their more ‘popular’ liquid brethren. You have to start somewhere so I don’t shy away from the more well-known brands, whiskies that imbibers will find at most bars around the globe, as a home base.”
– Any notable historical figures champion Scotch?
Too numerous to mention, but here are a few: George Bernard Shaw (pictured left), Humphrey Bogart, Robert Burns, Ernest Hemingway, James Boswell, Sir Winston Churchill, George Burns, Jon Bon Jovi, Johnny Carson, William Faulkner, W.C. Fields, Sir Alexander Fleming, Ava Gardner, Horace Hutchinson, Horace Hutchinson, Joe E. Lewis, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, Igor Stravinsky …etc., etc. this could go one and on. Here to wrap it up is a great quote from Igor Stravinsky: “My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.”
– What resources do you offer Scotch drinkers?
Well other than amazing selection and great prices, there are several experts to give the “person-to- person” level of assistance empowering you by your preferrences, your budget and your unique needs.
My coworker Tobin Sharp, also had this to add: “We also offer a monthly newsletter with one to two pages of spirits reviews– Scotch is fairly well represented throughout the year– and it’s written by our man Forrest! These reviews tend to find a home in our regular spirits sections on our website.
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