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Scotch or Scotch whisky is a type of alcoholic drink that originates from Scotland and hence the name. In Britain, the name scotch whiskey is meant to imply whiskey itself unless specified otherwise. Although traditionally, scotch is distilled especially from water and malted barley, commercial distilleries introduced whiskeys made from wheat and rye towards the end of the 18th century.

Aging of Scotch

Irrespective of the type of scotch, all types of Scotch must be subjected to a process of aging for at least three years. A whiskey that has an age statement imprinted on the label is considered a guaranteed-age whisky. Any age statement that appears on a bottle of Scotch, expressed in a numerical form, indicates the age of the youngest whisky involved in the manufacture of that particular product.

Types of Scotch Whiskey

Single Malt which makes uses only one particular malted grain, which is typically barley. Other types are Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky (which was formerly called "pure malt" or "vatted malt") and blended Scotch whisky.

There are two basic types of Scotch whisky, from which all blends are made:

  • Single malt Scotch whisky refers to a Scotch whisky produced using only water and malted barley at a distillery by batch distillation in special ‘pot stills’.
  • Single grain Scotch whisky refers to a Scotch whisky distilled at a particular distillery unit but, in addition to the usual water and malted barley, this may involve some whole grains of other malted or even unmalted cereal grains. "Single grain" does not imply that a single type of grain was used to manufacture the whisky—rather, "single" refers to use of a single distillery (and actually making a "single grain" involves using a mixture of selected grains, as barley itself is a type of grain and some malted barley must be used in all Scotch whisky).

The major percentage of the grain whisky produced in Scotland goes into making of blended Scotch whisky. The standard blended whisky consists of 60% to 85% grain whisky. Some higher-quality grain whisky acquired from a single distillery is also bottled as single grain whisky.

Therefore, there is a marked difference between Single malt scotch and Single grain scotch.

Three types of blends are defined for Blended Scotch whisky, these are:

  • Blended malt Scotch whisky refers to a blend consisting of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies obtained from different distilleries.
  • Blended grain Scotch whisky refers to a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies obtained from different distilleries.
  • Blended Scotch whisky refers to a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies along with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.

Blended Scotch whisky comprises approximately about 90% of the overall whisky produced in Scotland. Notable blended Scotch whisky brands include Dewar's, Bells, Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, Whyte and Mackay, The Famous Grouse, J&B, Ballantine's and Chivas Regal.

Process of Manufacture

1. Malting

Production of malt whiskey begins with the first stage of malting the barley. This is achieved by steeping the barley in plenty of water till it reaches the point of germination. Malting causes the release of enzymes which are responsible for the breakdown of starches in the grain converting them into simpler sugars. Once the desired state of germination is reached, the malted barley is subjected to drying with use of heated air. Some distillers use smoke from a special type of fire to impart an earthy smoked, flavor to the spirit.

2. Mashing and Fermentation

The dried malt (and other grains in the case of grain whisky) is ground to a coarse textured flour called "grist". This is subsequently mixed with hot water in a large vessel generally called a mash tun. Then the grist is allowed to steep.

This process is known as "mashing", and the mixture produced as "mash". During the process of mashing, enzymes that were developed in the course of the malting process gradually convert the barley starch into sugar, producing a sugary liquid known as "wort".

The wort thus formed is then transferred into another large vessel called a "wash back" where it is allowed to cool. Yeast is then added, and the wort is left to ferment. The resulting liquid, which now contains about 5% to 7% alcohol by volume, is finally separated from solid matter by the process of filtering. The resultant liquid is a rudimentary form of beer referred to as the "wash".

3. Distillation

The last step is to use a still in order to distil the wash. Distillation is employed to increase the alcohol content as well as to remove any undesirable impurities like methanol.

As against single malts that require multiple distillations in a pot still, grain whiskies are distilled by means of a column still, which require only a single distillation in order to achieve the desired level of alcohol. A continuous fractional distillation process is used to produce Grain whisky, quite unlike the simple batch process distillation used for malt whisky. Therefore, it is more efficient to operate and also the resulting whisky is less expensive.

4. Maturation

Most newly-made malt whiskies are diluted to about 63.5% a.b.v. before being placed in large oak casks to mature. The aging process is accompanied by evaporation, due to which each year in the cask brings about a loss of volume as well as a reduction in alcohol. The approximately 1.5 to 2.0 % that is lost each year is referred to as the angel's share. In order to be classified as Scotch whiskey, the distillate must have aged for at least three years and one day, although most single malts these days are offered at a minimum of eight years of maturity.

5. Dilution to an alcohol content of 50% to 60 % followed by a process of chill filtration through a fine filter at 0 C (32 F) ( that may/may not be applied ) followed by artificial caramel coloring are some of the stages prior to bottling whisky.

Nutritive Value

  • There are approximately 222 calories contained in 100 g of Scotch whiskey. One serving of a shot of Scotch equivalent to about 35 ml contains 78 calories (Values differ depending on type of Scotch) with 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g proteins and 0 g fats.
  • Scotch is believed to provide lesser number of calories than either beer or wine, hence, it is a good alcoholic beverage option for persons who are watching weight.
  • Mayo Clinic reports that the moderate consumption of alcohol such as Scotch may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and gallstones.
  • Excessive Scotch consumption can cause irregularities in blood pressure, subsequent related cardiovascular risks apart from leading up to liver cirrhosis.
  • Scotch turns gluten-free following the process of distillation, like certain other alcohols and is hence, fit for consumption by gluten-intolerant persons.

Culinary Uses of Whisky

  • In desserts such as puddings and cakes like Orange Whisky Cream Pudding and Scottish Whisky Fruit Cake.
  • In main dishes like Almond whisky mince meat and Lamb chops with fresh figs and whisky.

In fact, with the rise in global appreciation and understanding of Scotch Whisky, a specialized cook book entitled ‘The Whisky Kitchen’ by Graham Harvey was published not too long ago in 2008 to popularize use of whisky in culinary practice.

It is believed that no two scotch whiskies are alike, each offers a very unique and complex range of flavors that adds a whole new dimension to any dish.