How To: Select a Scotch Whisky

whisky

Let’s start with some Scotch basics: Scotch whisky hails from Scotland, where it’s aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years. Usually, it’s derived from malted barley, but corn is occasionally added to the mix. Single Malt Whisky — beloved by connoisseurs — is made from 100% malted barley and produced by a single distillery.

Scotch Whiskies are heavily influenced by their climates of origin, so you’ll want to get familiar with their flavor profiles. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find in bottles from Scotland’s four major regions: Lowland, Campbeltown, Islay, and Highlands.

Lowland malts have a gentle, elegant, and malt-forward flavor. It’s a subtle sipper, thanks to its lighter peat content. For a pretty and bright Lowland, we suggest starting with a selection from Glenkinchie.

Campbeltown is an incredibly unique landscape. The saltwater surrounding the region influences the resting casks, giving the final product a slightly briny tang. Don’t worry – these malts still have a touch of sweetness and ample charisma. Springbank is the main distillery of Campbeltown, one of only two in the region.

Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, is home to a much different style. The whiskies here are far more pronounced, salty, and smoky. These bottles are not for the faint of heart, so they might not be the best choice for a beginner. But, for those with experience, Ardbeg, Bowmore, and Lagavulin are all fantastic choices.

Highlands, the largest of the main regions, has the most distilleries and the most fans. With a wide variety of stills and styles, Highlands whiskies offer a vast range of flavors and characteristics. Generally, they tend to be a bit more fruit-forward and perfumed, though they run the gamut with respect to peat influence. With so much diversity, we recommend trying as many distilleries as possible. The most popular: Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, and, of course, Macallan.

Finally, here are some Scotch sipping suggestions for beginners: Scotch should be served at room temperature – not chilled or with ice. Start with a drop or two of water. You can add more to taste, if needed, but only in small increments.

Serve in a snifter or a tulip glass and slowly let the whisky breathe. Take in its complex and marvelous aromas before you take a small sip and roll it around your tongue. Let the flavors coat and unfold. Then, savor it as your stress melts away.

4 comments

  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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