All About Scotch

January 18, 2014

In this blog I will dig into the very long, hard and interesting history of Scotch, and the world's most popular brands of Scotch Whisky and Single Malt Scotches. As always I like to remind my readers to please drink responsibly.

Hsstory

Scotland has internationally protected the term "Scotch". for a whisky to be labelled Scotch it MUST be produced in Scotland. It if it produced in England, Wales, Ireland, America or anywhere else, it cannot be labelled as "Scotch". Many exceptional whiskies are made by similar methods in other countries, but they cannot be called Scotches, and are more often refered to as "Whiskey", While they may have great tastes, they do not captivate the tastes of Scotland. Whisky has been distilled in Scotland for over 500 years. It is thought that the art of distilling may have been brought to the country by Christian missionary monks but it has never been proven. Highland farmers could have discovered how to distil spirits from their surplus of barley.

The earliest historical reference to whisky occurs in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494. The earliest reference to a distillary in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament appears to be in 1690, when it mentions the famous Feintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden. The increasing popularity eventually gained the attention of the Scottish Parliment, which then introduced the very first taxes on malt in the later part of the 17th Century. With taxation being increased the distillers were driven underground in 1707. Smuggling soon became standard practice for about 150 years and there was no moral stigma attached to this. Ministers of the Kirk would make storage pits under pulpits and on occasion the illicit spirit would be transported by coffins.

Clandestine stills were organized and hidden in the nooks and crannies of the heather-clad hills and the smugglers even organized signaling systems from one hilltop to another whenever officers were seen arriving in the vincinity. By the 1820's as many as 14,000 illegal still were being confiscated and shut down every year.

Eventually, the Duke of Gordon on whose extensive acres some of the finest illicit whisky in Scotland was being produced, prompted him to propose in the House of Lords that the Government should make it profitable to produce whisky legally. In 1823 the Excise Act was passed which sanctioned the distilling of whisky in return for a license fee of 10 pounds and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. Smuggling of the product died out almost completely over the next ten years and in fact, many of the present day distilleries stand on sites that were once used by smugglers.

The Excise Act laid out the foundations for the Scotch Whisky industry as we know it today. Two further developments however put Scotch Whisky firmly on the world's map. Up until now, I have been explaining about what we now know as Malt Whisky. However, in 1831 Aemeas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still, which enabled a continuous process of distillation to take place. This, in turn, led to the production of Grain Whisky, a less intense spirit than malt whisky. The lighter flavored Grain Whisky, when blended with more fiery malts extended the appeal of Scotch Whisky to a much wider market.

The second development came from France. By the 1880s, the phylloxera beetle had completely devastated the vineyards of France, and within a few years, wine and brandy had almost completely disappeared from cellars everywhere. The Scots were quick to take advantage of this and by time the French industry recovered, Scotch Whisky has completely replaced Brandy as the preferred spirit of choice.

Scotch Whisky has survived through Prohibition, wars and revolutions, economic depressions and recessions to maintain its position today as the world's international spirit of choice, extending to more than 200 countries!

Brands of Scotch

Scotch Whisky Brands

Bell's

  • Premium blended Scotch. Owned by Diageo.
  • Original Bell's
    • Fresh, fruity taste with just a small hint of smokiness
  • Special Reserve
    • Aged to at least 8 years old. Tempered smokiness finish with warm pepper by a rich honey.

William Lawson

  • Finest Blend
    • Sweet cereal, spiced apple with chamois leather and spicy leather
  • Scottish Gold 12 Year Old
    • First blended by William Lawson in 1849
    • Malty cereal with notes of vanilla and tropical fruit countered by subtle notes of buttery tar, spice and smoked currents

Dewer's

  • Blended Scotch
  • Has become an American hit
  • White Label
    • Blend of soft vanilla with honey and blooming heather
    • Well rounded, medium bodied andsmooth with a slight smoky sensation
  • 12 Year Old
    • Rich, fruity sweetness with a wellrounded medium to full bodied with a hint of oak

J & B Rare

  • Diageo Owned
  • Blended scotch
  • Moderate to light bodied with some unusual flavors: buckwheat, bitter almond, and white pepper with a slightly grainy texture

Chiva's Regal

  • Aged over 12 yrs in Europe/Asia Pacific
  • 12 Year
    • Creamy, full rich taste of honey, ripe apples with vanilla, hazenut and butterscotch
    • 18 Year
      • Rich, smooth, velvety dark chocolate, with elegant glotal notes and a wisp of sweet, mellow smokiness

    Ballantine's

    • Pernod-Ricard owned
    • Aged for at least 3 years; many for much longer
    • Balanced, subtle flavors with tones of milk chocolate, red apple and vanilla.

    Johnnie Walker

    • World's largest Scotch whisky brand
    • Owned by Diageo
    • Red Label
      • Powerful combo of spicy, silky, smoky malts
      • Created to be a long drink or a celebration drink
    • Black Label
      • Deep complex flavor
      • Luxury blend
      • Aged 12 years or more
    • Gold Label
      • Aged minimum 18 years
      • Perfect for when served frozen
      • Light, fruity flavors with a honey sweetness
    • Blue Label
      • Rarest blend
      • Ultimate luxury whisky
      • Challenging and acquired taste
    • Green Label
      • Fresh, distinctive flavor.
      • Vibrant, fresh, smooth flavors that evokes the freshness of the outdoors

    Single Malt Scotches

    Oban

    • Distilled in the west highland region.
    • Distillery was opened in 1794
    • Offered in a 14 year and 18 year versions
    • 40% alcohol content
    • A classic balance. Not too smokey but not too sweet

    Dalwhinnie

    • Dalwhinnie means "meeting place" in Gaelic
    • Comes from the Highlands
    • Aged for 15 years
    • ubtly smokey, with a lighter taste that builds up to a full finish
    • Perfect by itself, add a dash of ice water to bring up the flavor
    • A favorite after dinner drink because of its slight sweetness

    Laphroaig

    • Celebrated as "the worlds most richly flavored Scotch"
    • Distillery is located on the Island of Islay, off the west coast of the Scottish mainland
    • 10 year variety is the most common
    • Has a woodsy, smokey taste. Perfect for a cold, rainy night.

    The Balvine

    • Doublewood
      • Aged 12 years
      • Matured in two woods: Oak and Sherry
      • It opens with a sweet nose of fruit, honey, and vanilla. Ends with a long warm finish.

    Ardberg

    • Woodsy and deep flavor
    • Has hints of tobaccoo and coffee. Can sense the malted cereal.

    Macallan

    • Has been distilled in Scotland since 1824
    • Originally matured in Spanish oak sherry casts but the company has since introduced a fine Oak series earlier this decade
    • Grows their own barley, and uses water drawn from their private springs
    • Selects only the finest 16% of the spirit for maturation, creating its full bodied richness
    • 18 Years variety is silky-smooth with hints of leather, licorice and tobacco

    Lagavulin

    • Distilled on the Island of Islay
    • The distillery dates back as far as 1816
    • The word Lagavulin translates to "hollow by the mill" in Gaelic
    • Balanced and smooth
    • The most common is the 16 year variety which is powerful, stout, and smokey

    The Dalmore

    • Highland malt made from the waters that run through the village where the distillery stands
    • Smells of lemongrass and citrus
    • The unique, pure character of The Dalmore comes from the unique set up of their stills

    Glenmorangie

    • Highland whisky made in the tallest stills in Scotland
    • Currently the best selling single malt scotch in Scotland
    • Offers an aroma of citrus and fruit, a taste of vanilla and a lingering finish

    As you see Scotch whisky has had a long, hard, and at one time, illicit history. Remember, real Scotch can only be made in Scotland, so try a new brand, new flavor or if you dare: maybe try two.

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