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All Scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is Scotch and Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland.
What is Scotch Whisky?
Whisky is a distilled spirit made from grains and matured in wooden barrels. It originated in Scotland and Ireland over 500 years ago and though Scotch is the most well known, there has been a surge in recent years of whisky production in other countries around the world such as Japan, India, Scandinavia, Ireland as well as an increase in North American bourbon and rye whiskies. Though blended Scotch makes up the majority of global sales of Scotch, demand for single malt whisky has increased dramatically over the past few years causing a shortage, and the subsequent rise in the popularity of blended malts and the numerous other varieties of whisky including whisky liqueurs.
Scotch Whisky can only be made in Scotland, though whisky or whiskey can be made in any other country. For a whisky to be legally allowed to be called Scotch, it must be
» produced and bottled in Scotland
» only made from cereal grains, water and yeast
» matured in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years
Other restrictions include the minimum alcohol strength, maximum cask size, additives, labelling, etc.
Whisky in Scotland is predominantly made from barley and in particular malted barley, where the barley is allowed to partially sprout to help increase the amount of sugars available for fermentation. Generally Scotch is distilled twice, though there are distilleries that carry out three or even more distillations. Scotch Whisky with an age printed on the label must show the youngest matured whisky that it contains.
Types of Scotch Whisky
There are five categories of Scotch Whisky which are derived from two types of whisky i.e. malt and grain. Malt Whisky is made from only malted barley and is batch distilled in copper pot stills. The five regions of Scotland that produce Scotch Malt Whisky are Highland, Speyside, Islay, Lowlands and Campbelltown. Though not officially recognised, the Islands are sometimes regarded as there own region, but are usually classed as part of the Highland region. Grain Whisky can be made from barley, wheat or corn, though some malted barley is required for fermentation to occur.
The categories of Scotch Whisky are single malt, blended malt, blended, single grain and blended grain.
Single Malt Whisky is produced in a single distillery, and not blended with whisky from any other distillery. Unless the label says single cask, single malt is made from mixing malt from multiple casks, though still from the same distillery.
Blended Malt Whisky, historically called Vatted or Pure Malt is made from 100% malted barley from different distilleries to create particular flavours or character. Not to be confused with blended whisky.
Blended Scotch Whisky is made from a mixture of malt whisky and grain whiskies usually from multiple distilleries. The ratio of malt to grain whisky is determined by the producer, but it is usually in the region of 25% malt to 75% grain.
Single Grain Whisky is made in a single distillery, but it does not require it to be made from a single cereal grain. However these are not commonly bottled, being used in blended whisky instead.
Blended Grain Whisky is made from multiple grain whiskies from different distilleries.
Other terms found on Scotch Whisky labels are not proscribed by legislation, but indicate characteristics of the whisky such as peating, single cask, number of distillations, cask strength, filtration methods and type of cask such as sherry, bourbon, port, rum, etc. All of which add to the complexity and depth of flavour of Scotch. One recent change to labelling legislation is that all Single Malt Scotch Whiskies must now include the region from which they were distilled on the label.