How To: Select a Scotch Whisky

Tomorrow, March 27 is World Whisky Day! In honor of this glorious holiday, we’ll be offering 20% off all of our regularly priced, imported Whisky! (Read: no Bourbon this time!)

And now a lesson in Scotch Whisky….

Scotch simply cannot be purchased blindly.

In fact, Scotch Whisky (no “e”) is a love-hate relationship for many, if you are whisky averse, run the other direction. If you are a whisky fan, then this is your lucky day.

But how does one properly pick a great bottle? That isn’t exactly an easy question to answer…but in short, it can be selected by region, kind of like wine. Depending on the region where it’s distilled it’ll have a varying profile.

Let’s start with some Scotch basics: Scotch Whisky is a collection of grain based beverages distilled in Scotland. Most are produced from malted barley, although corn is used in some, which post distillation is aged in oak casks for a desired length of time. The Single Malt Whisky, the ultimate connoisseurs dram, is 100% malted barley, from a single distillery. Age statements range from 8 years to the elusive and incredibly rare 50 yr, which can exceed the price of an automobile.

Father's Day Scotch Gifting Guide

Scotch Whiskies are primarily produced in 4 main regions – Lowland, Campbeltown, Islay and Highlands. There are other unincorporated areas, but these are the basic sources for the myriad of whisky.

Let’s discuss the regions and their respective Scotch taste profiles…

Lowland malts are a gentler more elegant style with more emphasis on malt. More subdued in Peat content (which the grains are frequently dried over prior to distillation), if any at all, the Lowlands are pretty, bright, subtle in style and to a degree elegant. Glenkinchie is a common Lowland.

Campbeltown is a particularly unique situation, the malts from here are still bright and charismatic, almost with a sweetness, but they pick up a slightly salty or briny nuance from the salt air, being that Campletown is surrounded by salt water (and salt air) which provides influence to the resting casks. Springbank is the main distillery of Campbeltown, one of only two.

Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, is home to an altogether different style. The whiskies are far more pronounced, salty, smoky and the characteristic iodine character sets these apart. Not for the faint of heart, and definitely not the first whisky you ever want to put to your tongue. Ardbeg, Bowmore and Lagavulin are prime examples.

Highlands, the largest of the main regions has the largest quantity of distilleries and thus the greatest fan base due to the wide variety of stills and styles. Within Highlands lies Speyside, which is considered the Grand Cru of Single Malts due to the depth and quality of offerings. Due to the vast diversity of landscape and its influences, it’s more difficult to assign a single or few characteristics, but they tend to be a bit more fruit forward, perfumed and do run the gamut with respect to Peat influence. This just exemplifies the need to strike out and try many as there are such great options. Best known are Glen Livet, Glen Morangie and of course Macallan.

Hopefully that helps a little with your selection. Finally, here are some imperative Scotch sipping rules…

Scotch whisky should be served at room temp, not chilled, not with ice, just with a drop or two of water, if this is too aggressive, add water to taste, but in small increments, you can’t undo what you did. Serve in a snifter or a tulip glass, not a cut glass tumbler or an old fashioned. Slowly let the whisky breathe and take in its complex and marvelous aromas before finally taking a small sip and rolling it around your tongue. Let the flavors coat and unfold, and savor while escaping the tumult of the day.


  1. M Hank says:

    Great information and for those who have never had a real taste, your missing something special.

  2. MRP says:

    Uh.. the text says to serve in a tulip or snifter.
    What kind of glass is in the photo?

  3. Mario Salas says:

    Great article like always…keep up the great work gentlemen.

  4. Glenn says:

    A fine intro to Scotch; thank you! I’d just respectfully quibble with the blanket statement that one should definitely not start with Islay Scotches. They were my entry and the only reason I became a Scotch lover. I’d smelled and tried a sip here or there over the years, and found Scotch foul. Never understood the appeal. Then one day, a friend shared a dram of deeply flavored, peaty Lagavulin 12 year, and I finally understood what makes Scotch worth tasting! I immediately asked a master what else to try, and was poured the peaty Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail, and intensely smoky, richly flavorful (and now long-gone) Alligator — and was in love. I’ve since tried fine Scotches from the other regions, but while I can appreciate a few, they don’t excite my palate enough to beckon me to a second sip. If I’m going to buy a bottle, it will still always be an Islay.

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