The Beginner’s Guide to Drinking Scotch

The Beginner’s Guide to Drinking Scotch

Scotch is a type of whisky produced in Scotland, typically from malt grains. (Bourbon, another type of whiskey, is mainly made from corn mash and produced in the United States.) The term “whisky” itself is an English version of the Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha”literally “water of life.” 
While there are many types of whiskys, Scotch and bourbon are the most popular.

To bear the name “Scotch,” the distilled product must be made in Scotland, aged in oak barrels for at least three years and result in an end product of at least 40 percent (proof) alcohol, among other strict standards.

Originally made from malted barley, Scotland’s commercial distilleries—there are now more than 130 of them across the country—began also making Scotch from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. Five modern categories of Scotch whiskey include: single malt Scotch, single grain Scotch, blended malt Scotch, blended grain Scotch and blended Scotch.

Single malt is both prestigious and quite specific to taste, says Jeffrey Lindenmuth, executive editor of Whisky Advocate, an industry leader with origins and offices in the Lehigh Valley. “Blended is a good place to start.”

Malts and grains in the mix present a smoother body, Lindenmuth explains, and blended Scotches are more common to what consumers might find in their local liquor store.

“They pull from many granaries, are well-rounded and offer something for everyone,” Lindenmuth says. ”Blends are a great place to start. The blender combines malts and grains from around Scotland to create a complex and well-balanced whisky that’s not overly smoky or fruity and that strikes all flavor notes well.” In that category, he says, Dewers, Dewers 12 and Johnny Walker offer a nice place to start.

Single malt scotches come into play when the budding aficionado finds that he or she gravitates toward certain flavors, Lindenmuth explains.

For instance, Islay single malt Scotch produced in the south Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland has a particularly smoky flavor. The secret is peat. Other Scotches from other regions of the country focus on fruity and other flavors.

I really think blended whiskies are a great place to start to experience your palate and let that direct you into single malts,” says Lindenmuth. “It’s very much a love/hate relationship for a lot of people.”

Another tip: older doesn’t necessarily translate to better, although it is more expensive. It all boils down to personal taste, Lindenmuth says.

“I really encourage not just going to a liquor store and buying a bottle but going to a bar with a good selection and starting by the glass. Some will give you flights or small portions.”

Another great way to learn about Scotch is to join up with one of the burgeoning whisky clubs across the country or attend an event, Lindenmuth says. Whisky Advocate is a conduit for both opportunities, listing clubs across the country (and offering tips for starting and maintaining them) and also hosting its annual WhiskyFest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami. Go to

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