4 Important Tips when Shopping for Scotch Whisky

by : Scotch Served Neat for cassandraericson.com

Here are 4 important tips to help you on your next Scotch Shopping Spree. After this article you will know how to Choose your style, pick a region, recognize finishing details for the product, and understand some whisky pricing factors. What matters? Style. Region. Finishing. Budget


  1. Choose Single Malt or Blend    First and foremost when shopping for Scotch the most important factor to understand is all Scotch whisky must be made in Scotland, but not all whisky is Scotch. Secondly, ask yourself what am I looking for?  “Single-Malt Scotch’ or “Blended Scotch”?  A Single-malt Scotch is distilled and aged using whisky from one single distillery in Scotland such as Maccallan, Lagavulin or Glenmorangie. A Blended Scotch such as Johnnie Walker, Chivas and Dewar’s is a blend of 2 or more scotches sourced from several different distilleries. A simple example would be that Johnnie Walker Green Label is a 15-year-old blend of Talisker, Caoila, Linkwood and Cragganmore, which are all single-malt scotches.



2. Zone in on a Region: Scotch is broken down into 5 main regions, each having their own distinct flavor characteristics. An important question to ask yourself is, what flavor profile am I looking for? Do I want an extremely smoky, peaty scotch OR do I want a sweeter, floral, light scotch?


  • The SPEYSIDE region is known to produce the most complex and rich scotches accounting for roughly half of all operating distilleries in Scotland.

  • The HIGHLANDS region is known as the largest area and produces light and fruity scotches in the south and spicy, complex, and full-bodied scotches in the North, closest to Speyside.

  • In the LOWLANDS region there are only 3 operating distilleries (Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie). The whiskies produced in the lowlands are typically known as the lightest of all the single malt scotches.

  • The ISLANDS region produces scotches such as TALISKER and HIGHLAND PARK, which tend to be a transitional flavor profile that bridges the gap between Highland and Islay regions.

  • Last but definitely not least is Scotch from the Isle of ISLAY (pronounced eye-luh). Scotches from the Islay region such as ARDBEG, LAPHROAIG or LAGAVULIN are known for their strong, complex and peaty flavor profile. Scotches from Islay are very peaty and smoky due to factors such as the surrounding rough seas, temperatures and the amount of peat contained in Islay soil.


3. Finishing Details: When shopping for a scotch you can look at which type of cask or barrels the scotch is aged in. Today, distilleries are becoming very creative with the type of barrels they use, but before we dive into these topics let it be known unlike most American whiskies, Scotch can be aged in used barrels. Often times you will see single malts aged in used American bourbon or Tennessee whiskey such as Jack Daniels or Bulleit Bourbon. For example, Glenmorangie 10 year old is aged ex-bourbon barrels. Other brands such as Macallan age their scotch in ex-sherry wine barrels, which will give the scotch a sweeter taste profile. All scotch labels will list exactly which barrels their scotch is aged in.



4. Decide on a budget: Finally we approach a very important factor that plays a huge part in deciding the best scotch for you. The price of your scotch, which is impacted the most by the length of aging, which ties in with the scarcity of the product.. In Scotch, the age on the label is referring to the youngest drop in the bottle (rum age statements are complete opposite in that the age states the oldest drop in the bottle, but thats another blog post in itself). A perfect example of aging is The Macallan or Glenfiddich lines which offer 10 to30 years and up. You will recognize a significant difference in price from a 10 year old and a 30 year old scotch. Cheers and remember, it is acceptable to be promiscuous with your whiskies.

SCOTCH SERVED NEAT is a New York Based Whisky, Wine, and Cigar enthusiast,  you can find him on Instagram @scotchservedneat, Twitter @Scotchserved, or at www.scotchservedneat.com

Single Variant Tasting- Margarita Sampling Seminar

So, What is Single Variant Tasting?

Tasting the same drink recipe made several times, while changing only a single component for each version.

Why is this important?

Developing your tasting skills is laborious to say the least. There are so many versions of cocktails, and even more variety in the spirits one can use for the same recipe. 

When developing recipes professionally, or tasting for fun, it's essential to understand that each component of a drink has a profound impact on the final product. I like to refer to this as the "GIGO effect" which is "Garbage in, Garbage out". The final drink can only be as good as the quality of the components that went into them. You can't create a "craft cocktail" by throwing together whatever dusty bottles you have in your back storage. Don't destroy a great liquor by pairing it with a sub-par mixer.

If you don't use fresh squeezed, local and organic juices whenever possible, you're doing it wrong. If your mixer contains red dye #40 and a slew of artificial ingredients you can't pronounce, start writing your resignation, or LEVEL UP! Who wants to drink that crap anyways?

Margarita Madness

In my first-ever meeting with the Oregon Bar Guild, I attended a Single Ingredient Variant Tasting for Margaritas! It was an unusually hot Sunday afternoon and Margaritas fit the bill beautifully. As a welcome drink, everyone was invited to have a "Base Margarita", a standard recipe to set the palate, and create a benchmark for our tastebuds. It was a reference point for our "taste memory" so we could dissect the variables more noticeably. 

The tastings were grouped by 3 major variants: Spirit, Citrus, Modifier, and finally there was a Mezcal version to demonstrate an outlier to the traditional Margarita Recipe. Each Variant Category had 3 options. 


The 3 Spirits:

  1. Pueblo Viejo- 104 proof Blanco
  2. Siete Leguas Reposado
  3. Casa San Matias

The 3 Citrus: 

  1. Persian Lime
  2. Key Lime
  3. Pasteurized Lime

The 3 Modifiers:

  1. Combier Orange
  2. Combier Royal
  3. Agave Syrup

The Ratios:

2 oz Spirit

1 oz Citrus

0.75 oz Variant

0.25 oz Simple Syrup

+ 1/2 oz water to simulate melting ice

2 Key Points

Diffused vs Non-Diffused Tequila: 

Diffusers are used in processing agave to squeeze a higher yield of sugars from the dry agave fibers. The process of diffusing strips a lot of flavor compared to more traditional methods of extracting the raw materials from the plants. The modernized process may be faster, cheaper, and produce higher yields, but results in a lower quality product, that often is enhanced with artificial flavors. The chemical formulations used to flavor sometimes are unnaturally sweet, or have a chemical/medicinal like aftertaste. Look into your label, and check to see what process they use. Just because it is a "premium" priced product doesn't mean it's made with any care.

Pasteurized vs Unpasteurized Lime

Canned, boxed, and packaged juices are often pasteurized to reduce the chances of bacteria present, and increase the shelf life of the product. The process of pasteurization heats the product to a high enough temperature to kill off unwanted microbes. The heating process dramatically changes the flavor, especially with citrus juices. Flavor will be impacted by both the heating temperature, and the length of heating. I highly recommend only making drinks with fresh squeezed juices, and use within a day to prevent oxidation or contamination. Always keep fresh squeezed juices refrigerated.  

Oregon Bartenders Guild Spring Contest- RHUBARB SPRITZ cocktail

In recent developments, I have joined up with the Oregon Bartenders Guild, a chapter of the US Bartenders Guild (USBG). I have some upcoming posts about my experiences at their Margarita single variant tasting and the Whisky School, but first, the Spring Cocktail Competition.

Enjoy this fresh and fragrant cocktail, which is full of light and embodies everything that reminds me of spring. Fresh cut rhubarb from my backyard, orange floral notes, bubbles, and the botanical forward spirit, Gin. 



1.5 oz Gin

1 oz Fresh Rhubarb Syrup

0.5 oz Lemon juice

2 dashes Orange blossom essence

Splash of Juniper Dry Soda Water



In a tin/shaker mix together gin, rhubarb syrup, lemon juice and orange essence. Shake with ice and strain into tall champagne or martini glass, top with juniper dry soda water. Garnish with edible flowers if desired.