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This post is part of our Scotch Hub.

When the terms “scotch” and “whiskey” get thrown around the bar, it’s often lost that scotch is whiskey. It’s just a particular subset of the overall whiskey category, and just like bourbon, it adheres to a strict set of rules.

Below: those rules, plus a few other characteristics that make scotch scotch. So consult this cheat sheet, laminate it, and keep it in your pocket at all times. Or maybe just bookmark it.

Scotch Basics

  • The term “whisky” is derived from the Scottish Gaelic phrase “uisce beatha”, which means “water of life”.
  • Scotland spells it “whisky,” the same as Canada and Japan, while American and Irish producers typically spell it “whiskey.” Tweet this
  • Scotch must be produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley. Other whole grains may be added, as well as plain caramel coloring, but nothing else.
  • All scotch must be aged in oak casks for at least three years. Tweet this
  • Much of a particular scotch’s color and flavor comes from the cask it matures in (excluding any additives).
  • All scotch aging in casks will lose some of its alcohol to evaporation, referred to as the Angel’s Share.
  • Scotch age statements must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle.
  • Scotch must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol-by-volume).
  • Despite the global popularity of single-malt scotch whisky, the majority of scotch consumed around the world is blended scotch whisky.

Scotch Whisky Regions

  • Scotland boasts five distinct whisky regions: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay.
  • The Islands form a sixth unofficial region, and comprise all the whisky-making islands (Orkney, Jura, Skye, Arran, and Mull) except for Islay.

Scotch Categories

  • Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (SWA) strictly defines and regulates the production, labeling, packaging, and advertising of Scotch in the UK.
  • Scotch is divided into five categories to distinguish how it’s produced:
    • Single Malt: distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals; is batch distilled in pot stills.
    • Single Grain: distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley, but may involve other whole grains including wheat and corn.
    • Blended Malt: A blend of single malt scotches from more than one distillery.
    • Blended Grain: A blend of single grain scotches from more than one distillery.
    • Blended: A blend of one or more single malt scotch whiskies with one or more single grain scotch whiskies.

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Thanks for the great article, I do wonder though, what is the major taste difference for the different Scottish regions. For me personally, I can’t tell the difference between a Highland and a Lowland whisky.