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The Truth about The Origins of Scotch Whiskey

What is Scotch Whiskey? The term scotch means that the whiskey was distilled and matured in the country whose name it bears. Scotch is the most complex of whiskeys, with unusual
combinations of sweetness and dryness. The sweetness coming from the primary grain, malted barley, which is the singular ingredient that is mostly associated with scotch whiskey. The dryness comes from the smoky qualities" that are derived by drying the malted barley in kilns fired with peat from local bogs and the water which runs through the heather and peat moors.

Scotch whiskey is aged in a variety of barrels: used port sherry, bourbon, etc. which add to the complexity and variety of scotches.

All of the largest selling scotch whiskey is blended. not only corn malts but also from the lighter and more neutral tasting grain whiskeys made from un-malted barley or, more often, corn.

The object of blending is to iron out the rough edges of individual scotch whiskies and produce something that will appeal to (or be acceptable to) a broader taste.

The blender usually has a wide variety of malts available from all four regions of scotch malts.

The Classic Regions

Like wines - and many other drinks - the single malt scotch whiskey of Scotland are grouped by region. As with wines, these regions offer a guideline rather than a rule. Within Bordeaux, a particular Pomerol, for example. might have a richness more reminiscent of Burgundy; similar comparisons can be made in Scotland. The regions in Scotland have their origins in the regulation of licenses and duties. but they do also embrace certain characteristics.

The Lowlands

The Lowlands tend to produce whiskeys in which the softness of the malt itself is more evident, un-tempered by Highland peatiness or coastal brine and seaweed. The Lowlands is defined by a line following old country boundaries and running from the Clyde estuary to the river Tay. The line swings north of Glasgow and Dumbarton and runs to Dundee and Perth.

The Highlands

The Highlands is by far the bigger region, and inevitably embraces wide variations. The western part of the Highlands, at least on the mainland, has only a few, scattered, distilleries, and it is difficult to generalize about their character. If they have anything in common, it is a rounded, firm character, with some peatiness. The far north of the Highlands has several whiskies with a notably heathery, spicy character, probably deriving both from the soil and the coastal location of all distilleries. The more sheltered East Highlands and the Midlands of Scotland (sometimes described as the South Highlands) have a number of notably fruity whiskies.

None of these Highland areas are officially regarded as regions, but the area between them is known as Speyside, universally acknowledged as a heartland of malt distillation. This area, between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen, sweeps from granite mountains down to fertile countryside, where barley is among the crops. It is the watershed of a system of rivers, the principal among which is the Spey. Although it is not precisely defined, Speyside is commonly agreed to extend at least from the river Findhom to the Deveron. Within the region are several other rivers, notably including the Livet.

The Speysjde single malts are noted in general for their elegance and complexity, and often a refined smokiness. Beyond that, they have two extremes: the big, sherryish type and the lighter, more subtle style.

Within Speyside, the river Livet is so famous that its name is borrowed by some whiskies from far beyond its glen. Only one may call itself The Glenlivet; only two more are produced in the valley, and a further one in the parish. These are all delicate malts, and it could be more tentatively argued that other valleys have malts that share certain characteristics.

The Highland region includes a few good coastal and island malts, but one peninsula and just one island have been of such historical importance in the industry that they are each regarded as being regions in their own right.


On the peninsula called the Mull of Kintyre, Campbeltown once had about 30 distilleries. Today, it has only three. One of these, Springbank. produces two different single malts. This apparent contradiction is achieved by the use of a lightly peated malt in one and a smokier kilning in the other. The Campbeltown single malts are very distinctive, with a briny character. Although there are only three of them, they are still considered to represent a region in their own right.


Pronounced "eye-luh", this is the greatest whisky islands; much of it deep with peat, lashed by the wind, rain and sea in the inner Hebrides. It is only 25 miles long, but has no fewer than eight distilleries, although not all are working. Its single malts are noted for their seaweedy, iodine-like. phenolic character. A dash of Islay malt gives the unmistakable tang of Scotland to many blended scotch whiskey.

From Scotch Whiskey to Vodka

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