Ladies drink Scotch and other forms of whisky. It is delicious and I’m tired of this wonderful beverage being classified as only for the gentlemen. Let’s claim this smokey, complex, boozy loveliness for our own and make the must-have Christmas gift for the lady on your list a delicious bottle of 20-year something-or-other.
What Does it Mean?
Made from distilled Scottish barley, Scotch is distinguished not only by geography, but also by the taste of the peat-fired flame used in the process. Legally, only whisky from Scotland may be called Scotch.
How Do You Make It?
First, malt it. Malting is the process by which you get the barley to germinate, which releases enzymes that convert starches into maltose, a sugar. The malted barley is then dried using peat smoke.
Next, mash it. Once the malt is dry, everything is mashed up into grist, or a flour about the consistency of oatmeal. This grist is then mixed with hot water and placed in a thing called a mash tun. In the mash tun, the grist and water steep until the sugars in the malt are released into liquid, called the wort.
Ferment it. The liquid is then moved to wooden or steel vessels, where it is mixed with yeast and allowed to ferment.
Distill it. The fermented liquid is then distilled twice (this liquid, by the way, is called the wash).
Mature it: This is where those fancy years come in. The distilled liquid is placed into oak casks, where it starts to take on the golden color of the barrels and mellow out. To be called Scotch, the whisky must mature for 3 years. Most are aged between 8 and 20 years. The longer the aging process, the more expensive your whisky.
Like French wine, geography is everything when it comes to Scotch. Each location has certain characteristics. The main areas are:
Lowland: The Scottish Lowlands make up the southern half of Scotland. Scotch from here is generally milder and great for beginners. I like Auchentoshan (it’s also fun to say), which makes a nice $30 bottle for the beginner. They have more expensive varieties, of course, but that’s a good place to start.
Highland: The highlands cover a wide swath of land and so the flavors are varied. Oban, one of my personal favorites, is a Highland Scotch that is very easy to drink and available at many fancier bars. Also part of the Highland family are Talisker and Glenmorangie.
Islay: My favorite grouping of Scotches, Islay Scotches tend to be peaty, or smokey, and have wonderfully complex flavors. I’m enjoying a nice Laphroaig 10 ($50 at my local liquor store) as I write this.
Speyside: Speyside has the largest number of distilleries and some of the biggest names, including Glenfidditch and The Glenlivet.
Campbeltown: The smallest region, one source I read describes these as “delicate yet briny.”
Time to Drink
Now that you’ve purchased your first bottle of Scotch (or are ready to order some at the bar), here’s what to know:
The glass: If all you’ve got is your basic Scotch glass, that’s fine, but the best for drinking seriously is a sherry copita.
Water: Some people claim that water opens up the flavor, some believe adding water is blasphemy. I say do what you like. Some Scotch I enjoy with just a splash of water while others I want neater than neat.
Ice: If you must use ice, just put in a single cube. Please don’t adulterate your beautiful Scotch with a full glass of ice.
Scotch to Buy
A decent bottle of Scotch will set you back between $30 and $50, more if you’re getting the fancier stuff. Some good starter brands include:
- Glenlivit 12
- Glenmorangie 10
- Auchentoshan Select
- Laphroaig 10
- Highland Park 12