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.
- 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 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.