Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scotch! (Whisky from Across the Pond)

Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.

 The first things you should know about Scotch Whisky. 
1.There are 3 ingredients: Malted Barley, Water, and Yeast.
2. It must be distilled in Scotland.
3. It must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in used oak barrels.
4. The final product must have a ABV of at least 40%. 

There is really just too much to say about Scotch. People have built entire careers just talking about it. This post is going to be about whisky in general. By the way, when I write "whisky" I mean scotch. If I write "whiskey", that can be rye, bourbon, or corn. Sorry for that, but it is an artifact from living in Scotland for half a year. One of the reasons I love whisky is that it is shockingly easy to take pictures of it. The other is that it is perhaps the most complex and diverse spirit in the world. 

You may be wondering what I mean by "diverse". It's time for a geography lesson.
Whisky can come from any of 4 main regions (there are more, but these are the most common): Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, and Islay(pronounced eye-luh). The fun part about each of these is that the whisky produced in each area has distinguishing characteristics. For instance, Lowland whiskies are drier, with very little smoke. Speyside whiskies have a little more smoke and are often quite sweet (sweet is relative in whisky terms). The Highland whiskies are sweet, but balance it out with good smoke. Islay whiskies are like biting into a brick of peat. If you like this (I do) it is fantastic, if not, you probably think it just tastes like smoke. As one of my friends so eloquently put it, "It tastes and feels like drinking fire!"

Drinking (and enjoying) whisky can be as much about the atmosphere as it is about the taste. I had tried some whisky before I went to Scotland, but wasn't convinced. Its very different when you step into a pub off a snow covered cobblestone street and get a dram. Maybe it has to do with accents. I don't know, but I do know that the atmosphere around whisky can really affect how you enjoy it. 

Whisky comes from a very proud culture and it is something that is truly their own. As a result, there are some guidelines to follow when drinking whisky (especially in Scotland).

- You don't take shots of whisky
- Don't mix a single malt
- Adding ice is frowned upon. The preferred methods are neat, or with a few drops of spring water (to open the flavor). The reason behind avoiding ice is because the ice both dilutes the whisky, as well as dulling the flavors.
-Drink from a proper glass (rocks, lowball, or glencairn are preferred)
-Think about your drink. Whisky is not for getting hammered, it is for enjoying, especially with company. If you aren't paying attention to the flavors, nose, and mouthfeel, you are missing the point. 

As I already said, there is just so much to say about Scotch whisky. Don't worry, there will be plenty more posts about it, focusing on each region individually, as well as specific distilleries. I will also go into Single Malt vs. Blended whiskies at some point. Maybe I will even do a post on how its made. Who knows? Me. I will. It will all come in time.

Side note: Whisky is seen as a sort of cure-all in Scotland and can be used for anything from stomach aches to sleeplessness. I would recommend this. A few times in the past year I have started feeling sick, had a dram of whisky as I relaxed for the night, and woke up feeling significantly better. Think of it as an alcoholic Mary Poppins kind of thing.

If you want me to look at a particular beer (drink?) or have anything to say to me, email me at

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