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
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.