National Scotch Day: The History and Process of Scotch and Craft Scotch – Join the Celebration

National Scotch Day

Monday was National Scotch Day, and it’s a cause for celebration all week long. Scotch whiskey is created in a specific fashion, aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years, with most aged considerably longer than that. Made from malted barley, Scotch was once called “usige beatha,” or the water of life in Scotch Gaelic. The earliest recorded Scotch production is indicated by a list of ingredients to create the beverage purchased in 1494. Today, the smoky whiskey has come a long way since it was first distilled at Lindores Abbey in the late 1400s.

Five kinds of malt whiskey are common, with single malt Scotch, distilled only from water and malted barley, considered the top of the line and distilled at a single distillery.

Single grain Scotch, on the other hand, may have additional malted or unmalted grains in the mix although it, too, is distilled at one distillery only. Blended malt Scotch whisky is a mix of malt whiskies from a variety of distilleries; less common is blended grain Scotch that uses grain whiskies from several distilleries. There’s also blended Scotch whiskey, which uses a mix of malt and whiskey from different source distilleries.

Even though all Scotch is crafted with malted barley, the flavor of even single malt Scotches vary substantially depending on the distillery, the water used, and the barrel it’s aged in. Scotch distillers often use oak barrels that have previously aged other whiskey, port, rum, or sherry, the flavors from which change the flavor of the Scotch.

The basic process of crafting Scotch involves turning barley into malt through soaking in water, during a germination process that lasts about a week. Malted barley is then dried using the smoke from a kiln. Dried malt is then mashed, mixed with hot water, and steeped into a sweet liquid known as wort. The wort in turn is pumped into large barrels and combined with the yeast to ferment over a period of several days. Next: distilling, usually twice, in what’s known as a pot still. Two stills are used for the double distilling process, the wash still and the spirit still. And once the distilling process ends? Maturation begins. The whiskey gets its color and flavor during this time, whether it’s aged thirty years or five, in warehouses with traditional stone walls or modern racking systems.

Scotch distilleries are located in five distinct regions in Scotland, each creating a Scotch with a different flavor and aroma: the Lowland, Highland, Islay, Speyside, and Campbeltown regions. The largest number of Scotch distilleries, and arguably the best known such as The Macallan and Glenfiddich, are located in Speyside.

These regions each produce a different character of Scotch, with lighter blends coming from the Lowlands, and smoky whiskey such as Laphroaig from Islay.

While many Scotch whiskies are produced by large companies, craft distillers offer Scotch such as the triple distilled Auchentoshan, whose golden 12-year-aged variety tastes of toffee and almonds with notes of citrus and nuttiness. Aberlour, a Highland-region Scotch, offers an 18-year-aged single malt that’s as rich in deep gold color as it is in taste, with notes of honey, oak, and apricot in a balanced and creamy blend. Forty-two-year-old Ledaig is considered among the rarest and expensive single malt Scotch whiskies. With only five hundred bottles released, it is the oldest-ever release from the Tobermory distillery located in the Islay region. With a price tag of $5,000.00, you may not taste this subtly smoky Scotch yourself, but it’s rich with honey and notes of nuts, blackcurrant, orange, and bitter cocoa.

Whether you’re tasting a rare aged blend or a more common whiskey, Scotch can be consumed neat, with water, with ice, or as part of a craft cocktail. Variations on “The Penicillin” abound, mixing Scotch with honey and lemon; or the Mamie Taylor, which adds lime and ginger beer to the whiskey. At Los Angeles’ Ace Hotel Upstairs bar, the Scotch drink to try is The White Rabbit, which is crafted with Cognac, Scotch, Vermouth, Chartreuse, Bolivar bitters, and mint. Purists may scoff, but in a week that began with “National Scotch Day,” trying a variety of Scotch whiskey and Scotch-infused cocktails hardly seems amiss.

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