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All About Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky, or as it is more often referred to, Scotch, is malt whisky or grain whisky that has been made in Scotland. All Scotch whisky was originally made from malt barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

Scotch whisky is actually divided into five distinct categories:

  • Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Single Grain Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
  • Blended Scotch Whisky

It should be noted that Blended Malt Scotch Whisky was formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt"

Regardless of what category the whisky falls under, all Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for a period of no less than three years. Any statement as to the age of the spirit on a bottle of Scotch whisky, when expressed in numerical form, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used in the blend to produce that product. A whisky that has an age statement is known as a guaranteed age whisky.

The earliest record of whisky

The first ever written mention of a batch of Scotch whisky is held in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland from the year 1495. A friar by the name of John Cor was the distiller mentioned in this early reference and performed his production at Lindores Abbey in the Kingdom of Fife.

Regulations and labelling of Scotch Whisky

From 23rd November 2009, the Scotch Whisky Regulations came together to define and regulate the production, labelling, packaging, and advertising of all Scotch whisky. The new Regulations replace previous regulations that usually focused only on production. The Scotch Whisky Regulations define "Scotch whisky" as whisky that is produced at a distillery in Scotland and made from water and malted barley, to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added. Also all of these grains and cereals must have been:

  • a. processed at that Scottish distillery into a mash
  • b. converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems, in other words, only enzymes produced by the malt itself
  • c. fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast
  • d. distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8%
  • The whisky must also be wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres for no less than three years
  • The whisky must retain the colour, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in its production and maturation process
  • The whisky must contain no added substances, other than water and plain caramel colouring
  • The whisky must have a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40%

Labelling of the Scotch Whisky

The label on a bottle of Scotch whisky is made up of several elements that indicate aspects of the spirits production, age, bottling, and ownership. Some of these elements are now regulated by the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations, and some tend to reflect tradition and marketing. The correct spelling of the term "whisky" is often a hotly debated topic by many. Scottish and Canadian whiskies are spelt "whisky", Irish whiskies are spelt "whiskey" and American and other styles can't seem to settle on one spelling and vary in their spelling of the term.

The label will always features a declaration of the malt or grain whiskies used in its production. A single malt Scotch whisky is one that is entirely produced from malt in one distillery. Should the bottle of whisky come entirely from one cask, it is referred to as "single cask" whisky. The terms "blended malt" or "vatted malt" are interchangeable, and signify that single malt whisky from different distilleries are blended in the bottle. The Cardhu distillery also began using the term "pure malt" for the same purpose, thus causing a controversy over the clarity in labelling. The Glenfiddich distillery was using the term to describe some single malt whisky bottlings. As a result, the Scotch Whisky Association stated that a mixture of single malt whiskies must be labelled as a "blended malt". The use of the former terms "vatted malt" and "pure malt" whisky is no longer permitted. The term "blended malt" is still debated, as some bottlers maintain that consumers confuse the term with "blended Scotch whisky", which contains some amount of grain whisky.

The brand name of the whisky that is featured on the label is usually the same as the distillery name from which it was distilled. The Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009 stop whisky bottlers from using a distillery name when the whisky was not actually made there. A bottler name may also be listed, sometimes independent of the distillery. In addition to insisting that the Scotch whisky is distilled in Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 state that the whisky also be bottled and labeled in Scotland. Labels may also indicate the region of the distillery.

The Alcoholic strength of Scotch Whisky

The alcoholic strength of the finished and bottled whisky is expressed on the label with "Alcohol By Volume" "ABV" or sometimes just "Vol". Bottled whisky is usually between 40% and 46% ABV. Whisky is considerably stronger when first emerging from the oak cask at around 60 to 63% ABV. Water is then added to create the required bottling strength. If the whisky is not diluted prior to bottling, much like Smugglers Gold™ Pure Scotch Whisky, it can be labelled as cask strength.

The whiskies age may be listed on the bottle, thus providing a guarantee of the youngest whisky used in the blending process. An age statement on the bottle, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that particular product. A whisky with an age statement is referred to as guaranteed age whisky. Scotch whisky that is supplied without an age statement may, by law, be as young as three years old. A label may also carry a distillation date or a bottling date. The whisky maturation process stops when the whisky is removed from the oak cask at the time of bottling, so if no age statement is provided, the whiskies age may be calculated if both the distillation date and bottling date are given on the label.

Scotch whisky labels may also carry various declarations of filtration techniques or final maturation processes. A Scotch whisky labelled as "natural whisky" or "non chill filtered whisky" has not been through a filtration process during the bottling that removes certain compounds that some consumers see as desirable. Some specialist whiskies are placed in other casks at some point of the maturation process. These other casks may have contained Sherry or Port prior to the whisky being introduced, this then allows the whisky to be described as "wood finished", "Port" or "Sherry" finished.

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