Know Your Scotch:
There are two basic types of Scotch whisky, from which all consumer products are made:
Single malt Scotch whisky means a Scotch whisky produced only from water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills.
Single grain Scotch whisky means a Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery but, in addition to water and malted barley, may involve whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. “Single grain” does not mean that only a single type of grain was used to produce the whisky—rather, the adjective “single” refers only to the use of a single distillery (and making a “single grain” requires using a mixture of grains, as barley is a type of grain and some malted barley must be used in all Scotch whisky).
In other words, malt whisky must contain no grain other than malted barley. Grain whisky may contain unmalted barley or other malted or unmalted grains such as wheat and maize (corn).
A whisky labeled “Single Malt Scotch” is one which comes from a single producer and is not blended. One may also encounter the term “Single Cask”, signifying the bottling comes entirely from one cask. However, a producer may combine either malt or grain whiskies together to produce a final product. These whiskies are called blended.
Blend Types Defined:
Blended malt / vatted malt
Blended malt whisky —formerly called vatted malt or pure malt (terms that are now prohibited in the SWR 2009)—is one of the least common types of Scotch: a blend of single malts from more than one distillery (possibly with differing ages). Blended malts contain only malt whiskies—no grain whiskies—and are usually distinguished from other types of whisky by the absence of the word ‘single’ before ‘malt’ on the bottle, and the absence of a distillery name. To qualify as a blended malt, the mixed single malt whiskies are matured in the barrel for one year, after which the age of the vat is that of the youngest of the original ingredients. A blended malt marked “8 years old” may include older whiskies, with the youngest constituent being eight years old before vatting. As of November 2009, no Scotch whisky could be labelled as a vatted malt or pure malt, the SWR requiring them to be labelled blended malt instead.
Blended Scotch whisky constitutes about 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland. Blended Scotch whiskies contain both malt whisky and grain whisky. They were initially created as an alternative to single malt whiskies, which some considered too harsh. Producers combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent brand style.
The majority of grain whisky produced in Scotland goes to make blended Scotch whisky. The average blended whisky is 60%–85% grain whisky. Some higher-quality grain whisky from a single distillery is bottled as single grain whisky, though these are rare.
This smooth and distinctive blend uses only the finest grain and malt whiskies, including all seven of Islay’s classic malts. The rich, full bodied palate opens with a light sweetness followed by dried fruit, vanilla and spice which linger through to the smokey, peaty finish. A Best Buy.
This blend features aromas of dried peach, butter roasted nuts, cocoa and spice. The palate displays a silky, dry-yet-fruity, medium body and a bouncy toasted brioche, poached pear, honey and spice finish. Blended in part from Dalwhinnie single malt, and originally created by the Dalwhinnie founder, this is a classic, well-balanced, refreshing blended Scotch, ideal for sipping on the rocks or cocktails.
Chivas Regal 18 year old is a rich amber color, that of red wheat, and it opens with the aroma of sweet citrus, apple and a slight amount of oak. The velvet palate is filled with caramel and peat with warm, burnt orange notes. It finishes very dry and slightly spicy with a satisfying smoke at the back. A rich, hearty blended scotch that is great for sipping over ice.
Single Malt Scotch
On the palette, this Speyside scotch delivers a cacophony of orchard fruit flavors ranging from green apples and pears to lemons and oranges. The heavy peat flavor found in many scotches is muted allowing the sweeter floral notes and vanilla infused spices to come to the forefront. Having been aged in American white oak barrels, there is a particular familiarity with the taste profile that should entice those wary about deviating from Bourbon. A Best Buy.
Delicious aromas of roasted chestnuts, nectarines, apricots, banana, traces of jasmine, unbaked bread dough and yeast, and light honey. Initial palate is assertive and caramel sweet; midpalate is more integrated as layers of sweet grain and toffee intermingle with dried fruits, oaken spice and marzipan. The finish is long and sweet, with a sherried oak quality rounding everything out.
Laphroaig is one of the most recognizable whiskies in the world. Those that love big, smoky and briny Islay whiskies will find themselves enamored of this big, full-bodied and mouth coating single malt. On the palate, Laphroaig 10 offers predominant smoky flavors, peat smoke and campfire tones intermingled with a bit of creosote. There is a certain briny quality evident, as well as a slight hint of wet seaweed and perhaps just a touch of vanilla.
This highland scotch is aged for 12 years in bourbon barrels and then finished in the finest ruby port casks. This additional maturation adds a voluptuous, velvety character to the already elegant spirit. The bouquet is luscious with aromas of mandarin orange, dark chocolate, fresh mint, toasted walnut, sandalwood, and honeysuckle, while the palate introduces mouthwatering caramel and rose petal notes and a creamy, luscious texture.
Balvenie is the only single malt Scotch whiskey distillery that still grows and malts its own barley, has the only traditional working floor maltings in the Scottish Highlands, and has coopers to tend all the casks and a coppersmith to tend the stills. On the nose, the “Portwood” offers aromas of ripe fruit, raisin and peat smoke, backed by notes of toffee and toasted almond. The influence of the port cask is especially noticeable on the palate, where it mingles with complex flavors of peat, honey, anise and marzipan. Notes of spice, cedar and walnut appear on the long, smooth finish.
BONUS: How to pronounce your favorite scotch.