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Scotch whisky is a complex subject and this is just a very fundamental insight into the wonders of Scotch whisky
Whisky is made in a distillery and is either made from grain (barley/wheat/rye etc.) or malted grain ( best quality barley that has been allowed to sprout for a few days then dried).The most commonly known whisky types are Blended and Single malt whisky.
Blended whisky is made from a mixture of grain whisky and malt whisky, and Single Malt as the name suggests is made purely from malt whisky from a single distillery.
There are a few single grain whiskies available but they are not as popular as Single Malts. Approximately 90% of all malt whisky goes into blending and blended whisky is the far more popular drink throughout the world .the quality of blended whisky does vary but the well known brands will consistently give a very good quality product. Most blended whiskies tend to been made from whisky 5-8 years old and for anything to be called whisky it must have been aged for at least 3 years. Scotch whisky must be distilled and bottled in Scotland. Many of the top blended whiskies have high malt content and are a very nice drink indeed.
Single malt whiskies, though a smaller part of the overall market are becoming more popular all the time. The range of these whiskies is truly staggering, tastes can be very different and will have a wider range than wines. Many factors affect the taste and final finish of the whisky: the drying process of the barley, the water used, the distilling process, the type of casks used for maturation, the size of casks, the length of maturation, the area in which the casks mature, the mixing of casks, the finishing casks in which the final mix is allowed to “marry” and the final strength of the finished product. Malt whisky is most commonly sold at 10 -12 years aging, but 14, 18 and 21 year old (and older) are usually available and are very nice.
The strength of whisky can vary but, generally, 40% alcohol is standard, in some markets 37.5% alcohol and 35% whisky in Germany is not uncommon . Single malts tend to be 40%, 43% and 46% alcohol but there are many cask strength whisky that can vary from 57%-63% alcohol. Cask strength whisky is the strength it comes out of the cask at before it is set to a standard strength. Many malt whiskies are put into finishing casks to “marry “for the last 6-9 months of maturation and the finishing casks can impart a bit of flavouring, you will see Single Malt Whiskies and more often now Blended whiskies with labels saying they are finished in sherry, bourbon, port and various wine casks, they all add another dimension to the final product.
Whisky is distilled in several main areas of Scotland. The main areas are:
Each area produces different whiskies and even within areas whisky can vary greatly. In Orkney where there are two distilleries Highland Park and Scapa ( it has been closed for several years but soon to be reopened) the tastes of which are at opposite ends of the scale but the distilleries are only half a mile apart. You will be able to find many whiskies from distilleries that have closed down but some are getting a bit expensive, but the good news is many distilleries that have been “mothballed” for many years are reopening and new distilleries are being created such the Lochranza distillery on the Isle of Arran. Within distilleries too you can find a difference in the taste of whiskies for all the reasons mentioned before.
You will find with many of the blended whiskies that ones that may be very popular in your country are not available in Scotland, that is because they have been blended and named specifically for your market’s. In Italy 7 year old single malt is more popular that the normal 10-12 year old from Scotland.