An Ode to Scotch


Today is a day that you may want a strong drink. It might as well be scotch, right?

Scotch whisky is a liquor worth learning about, so in an effort to spread the knowledge, here is a quick primer. We’ll start with a discussion about what scotch is, and then tackle what type you should try if you’re just venturing into Scotchy Scotchland.

Types of Scotch

So, what is scotch? In essence, it’s whiskey made in Scotland. Excuse me, WHISKY. This spelling is key; without the “e”, the word refers to the Irish or American liquor, with a significantly different history and flavor profile. In either case, the word means “water of life”. Which is pretty accurate.

There are three distinct types of scotch: single malt scotch and blended scotch are the most common, but there is single grain scotch as well. Single malt is made in a single distillery, with barley and barley alone. Single grain scotch is also made at a single distillery; however, it contains other grains in addition to malted barley. And blended is… well, you guessed it. A blend. You can have a blended grain scotch, a blended malt scotch, or a plain ole blended scotch, containing a bit of each.

Though many pretentious barflies will tell you otherwise, one is not necessarily of higher quality than another. The more expensive types do tend to be single malt scotches, but more money doesn’t always mean better taste, especially not to your unique palate.

Grain blends aside, you’ll find there are further distinctions amongst types of scotch depending on where they are distilled in Scotland. The four regions, and their characteristics, are listed below:

  • The Lowlands scotches are made in the very southernmost reaches of Scotland. They are historically known for being lighter, though not many scotches are produced there currently.
  • Speyside scotches are distilled near the River Spey. Some of the best-known single malts are made in this region, including Glenfiddich. They are not usually very smokey, and in fact lean towards sweet.
  • The Highlands are the largest region by area of scotch production, and it’s where Johnny Walker originated. The scotch have truly diverse flavor profiles
  • Islay is an island off the western coast of Scotland, producing scotches that are intensely smokey due to their use of peat in the distilling process. You may note in your reading that both yours truly and Ron Swanson have a preference for this regional type, which includes Lagavulin and Laphroaig.

Now that you know the basics, it’s ime to figure out what type of scotch is best suited to your preferences. It’s time to get drinkin’!

If you like Bourbon…

You might want something sweet. The Speyside region is known for this type; I’ve seen avowed bourbon drinkers revel in a glass of Glenrothes. Their Vintage Reserve is delightful. Lowland scotches might also be a good offering with their lighter flavors, if you can find one. Finally, Bunnahabhain, an Islay offering, is an option I’d recommend if you don’t mind a kick in the teeth along with a bit of sweetness. It’s got the epitome of a scotch flavor, without the peat.

If you like Peat (Smokiness)…

You’re a guy or gal after my own heart. The joke goes: why not have your drink and cigar at the same time? If you’re a fan of peat, try Islay scotches. My favorite is the Laphroaig 10 year or the Quarter Cask (pictured at the top of this post). Ardbeg is another option, a Highland scotch that tends to be pretty smokey, and their entire selection is fantastic.

If you don’t like straight liquor…

Get yourself some Monkey Shoulder, a blended whisky of very smooth and agreeable flavoring, and try one of these great cocktails:

The Presbyterian

a customizable pour of scotch, ginger ale and club soda. Fizzy and sophisticated.

The Godfather

one pour amaretto to two pours scotch, and you may not smile while drinking it.

If you don’t like any hard alcohol…

I’m impressed you’ve read this far; you either have a very lucky scotch drinker in your life or an insatiable curiosity. On a day such as this, I might recommend you go for a nice glass of pinot noir to calm your jangled nerves. Have a great weekend, and try not to let the day’s events get you in too much of a funk.

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