To celebrate National Scotch Day Pappas Bros. Steakhouse General Manager and Scotch expert Rick Turner sends this breakdown to the various style of Scotch and shows that they are inextricably bound up with geography…
Geography – The Scotch Regions
Classic Scotch whisky is only produced in Scotland. Similar to wine and grape varietals, Scotch whisky varies in taste and style depending on region. There are six regions throughout the country that produce.
Lowlands: Often referred to as the “Lowland Ladies,” Scotch whisky in this region is light in style and very approachable in the palate.
Highlands: The largest geographic region for producing Scotch whisky. The Scotch produced in this region is well-known and stylistically heathery in taste. Due to the vastness of the region, Scotch made in the Highlands often varies in flavor from one distillery to another compared to the other regions.
The Islands: Although not all agree that The Islands is a region of its own, the Scotch produced here has a briny and salty characteristic due to the region’s brutal weather and exposure to high winds and seas of the west coast.
Islay: Scotches produced in Islay are considered to have the smokiest and most distinctive aromas due to the phenols and peat in the region. While some may think that the strong peat and phenol flavors are in all Scotch whisky, it is actually a misnomer.
Speyside: Named after the Spey River, this region has the largest number of distilleries in Scotland. Although it is geographically located in the North East area of the Highlands, Speyside remains a separate region due to its distinctive and more structured Scotch whisky.
Campbeltown: At one time known as the whisky capital of Scotland, Campbeltown is now the smallest of the Scotch-producing regions, but is considered to have the most unique distilleries.
How to Drink Scotch
Although the best way to enjoy Scotch is often based on personal preference, Scotch served in a tulip-shaped glass concentrates the aromas and flavors so they will not escape and enables you to swirl the Scotch easily. After swirling the glass, put your nose near the glass to smell the aroma for the full Scotch-drinking experience.
The Best Way to Enjoy Scotch is a Personal Preference – What Happens if You Add Water or Ice?
While some Scotch drinkers scoff at the idea of adding a splash of water and prefer to drink it neat, it is perfectly acceptable and often times adding a few drops of water can help the Scotch “open up” in the glass making each flavor more noticeable.
Adding ice to Scotch is considered poor form. As liquids become cooler, fewer flavors are apparent. The ice will lower the temperature of the Scotch causing it to tighten up in the glass and dull the aromas and flavors. Keep in mind adding anything to Scotch will alter the taste from its original form in the bottle. Many Scotch drinkers are purists and prefer its unadulterated state.
Pairing Scotch with Food
Even though the most popular pairing of Scotch is usually with your favorite cigar, most people don’t realize how easily Scotch can be paired with food. Similar to pairing wine with food, Scotch from different regions will complement various ingredients and tastes.
The best way to decide what dish to pair with a Scotch is to ask, “What are the primary elements in the whisky?” If the Scotch has a malty flavor, pairing it with a dish such as fish n’ chips would taste best. If the Scotch has a dark sherry finish such as Dalmore, pair it with rich sauces or even a sherry sauce. A Scotch lighter in style like Balblair, pairs nicely with fish or a light entree.
The renowned Glenmorangie distillery, located in the Highlands, produces extensive types of Scotch with a vast range for pairing with a variety of dishes.
Single Malt vs. Blended Scotch
A single malt Scotch refers to one single producer or distillery. A single malt Scotch can be a blend from different barrels as long as it comes from only one distillery. A blended Scotch is a combination of Scotch whiskies with grain whisky from a variety of distilleries throughout Scotland.
Does Aging Scotch Make it Better?
To be considered a “Scotch” it must be aged in Scotland in oak barrels or casks for at least three years. Starting at 120 proof, the Scotch loses a certain percentage of alcohol each year as it matures and evaporates in the barrel. This is known as the angels’ share.
Unlike wine, Scotch can mature in the barrel for any amount of time after the minimum of three years. Most Scotch connoisseurs agree that the more structured and smooth-tasting Scotch matures in the barrel for a long period of time.