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|Country of origin||Scotland|
|Alcohol by volume||40–94.8%|
|Country of origin||Scotland|
|Alcohol by volume||40–94.8%|
Scotch whisky (often referred to simply as "Scotch") is malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland. All Scotch whisky was originally made from malt barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late eighteenth century.
Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky (formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt"), blended grain Scotch whisky, and blended Scotch whisky.
All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Any age statement on a bottle of Scotch whisky, expressed in numerical form, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed-age whisky.
As of 23 November 2009, the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (SWR) define and regulate the production, labelling, packaging, and advertising of Scotch whisky. They replace previous regulations that focused solely on production. The SWR define "Scotch whisky" as whisky that is:
A Scotch whisky label comprises several elements that indicate aspects of production, age, bottling, and ownership. Some of these elements are regulated by the SWR, and some reflect tradition and marketing. The spelling of the term "whisky" is often debated by journalists and consumers. Scottish and Canadian whiskies use "whisky", Irish whiskies use "whiskey", while American and other styles vary in their spelling of the term.
The label always features a declaration of the malt or grain whiskies used. A single malt Scotch whisky is one that is entirely produced from malt in one distillery. One may also encounter the term "single cask", signifying the bottling comes entirely from one cask. The terms "blended malt" or "vatted malt" are interchangeable, and signify that single malt whisky from different distilleries are blended in the bottle. The Cardhu distillery also began using the term "pure malt" for the same purpose, causing a controversy in the process over clarity in labelling—the Glenfiddich distillery was using the term to describe some single malt bottlings. As a result, the Scotch Whisky Association declared that a mixture of single malt whiskies must be labelled a "blended malt". The use of the former terms "vatted malt" and "pure malt" is prohibited. The term "blended malt" is still debated, as some bottlers maintain that consumers confuse the term with "blended Scotch whisky", which contains some proportion of grain whisky.
The brand name featured on the label is usually the same as the distillery name (for example, the Talisker Distillery labels its whiskies with the Talisker name). Indeed, the SWR prohibit bottlers from using a distillery name when the whisky was not made there. A bottler name may also be listed, sometimes independent of the distillery. In addition to requiring that Scotch whisky be distilled in Scotland, the SWR require that it also be bottled and labeled in Scotland. Labels may also indicate the region of the distillery (for example, Islay or Speyside).
Alcoholic strength is expressed on the label with "Alcohol By Volume" ("ABV") or sometimes simply "Vol". Typically, bottled whisky is between 40% and 46% ABV. Whisky is considerably stronger when first emerging from the cask—normally 60–63% ABV. Water is then added to create the desired bottling strength. If the whisky is not diluted before bottling, it can be labelled as cask strength.
A whisky's age may be listed on the bottle providing a guarantee of the youngest whisky used. An age statement on the bottle, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed age whisky. Scotch whisky without an age statement may, by law, be as young as three years old. A label may carry a distillation date or a bottling date. Whisky does not mature once bottled, so if no age statement is provided, one may calculate the age of the whiskey if both the distillation date and bottling date are given.
Labels may also carry various declarations of filtration techniques or final maturation processes. A Scotch whisky labelled as "natural" or "non-chill-filtered" has not been through a filtration process during bottling that removes compounds that some consumers see as desirable. Some whiskies are placed in different casks—often sherry or port casks—during a portion of maturation. Since this takes place at the end of the maturation process, these whiskies may be labelled as "wood finished", "sherry/port finished", and so on.
There are two basic types of Scotch whisky, from which all blends are made:
Excluded from the definition of “single grain Scotch whisky” is any spirit that qualifies as a single malt Scotch whisky or as a blended Scotch whisky. The latter exclusion is to ensure that a blended Scotch whisky produced from single malt(s) and single grain(s) distilled at the same distillery does not also qualify as single grain Scotch whisky.
Three types of blends are defined for Scotch whisky:
The five Scotch whisky definitions are structured in such a way that the categories are mutually exclusive. The 2009 regulations changed the formal definition of blended Scotch whisky to achieve this result, but in a way that reflected traditional and current practice: before the 2009 SWR, any combination of Scotch whiskies qualified as a blended Scotch whisky, including for example a blend of single malt Scotch whiskies.
As was the case under the Scotch Whisky Act 1988, regulation 5 of the SWR 2009 stipulates that the only whisky that may be manufactured in Scotland is Scotch whisky. The definition of manufacture is "keeping for the purpose of maturation; and keeping, or using, for the purpose of blending, except for domestic blending for domestic consumption." This provision prevents the existence of two ‘grades’ of whisky originating from Scotland, one “Scotch whisky” and the other, a “whisky – product of Scotland” that complies with the generic EU standard for whisky. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, allowing non-Scotch whisky production in Scotland would make it difficult to protect Scotch whisky as a distinctive product.
The majority of grain whisky produced in Scotland goes to make blended Scotch whisky. The average blended whisky is 60%–85% grain whisky. Some higher-quality grain whisky from a single distillery is bottled as single grain whisky.
Blended malt whisky—formerly called vatted malt or pure malt (terms that are now prohibited in the SWR 2009)—is one of the least common types of Scotch: a blend of single malts from more than one distillery (possibly with differing ages). Blended malts contain only malt whiskies—no grain whiskies—and are usually distinguished from other types of whisky by the absence of the word 'single' before 'malt' on the bottle, and the absence of a distillery name. To qualify as a blended malt, the mixed single malt whiskies are matured in the barrel for one year, after which the age of the vat is that of the youngest of the original ingredients. A blended malt marked "8 years old" may include older whiskies, with the youngest constituent being eight years old before vatting. Johnnie Walker Green is an example of a blended malt. As of November 2009, no Scotch whisky could be labelled as a vatted malt or pure malt, the SWR requiring them to be labelled blended malt instead.
Blended Scotch whisky constitutes about 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland. Blended Scotch whiskies contain both malt whisky and grain whisky. They were initially created as an alternative to single malt whiskies, which some considered too harsh. Producers combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent brand style. Notable blended Scotch whisky brands include Bells, Dewar's, Johnnie Walker, Whyte and Mackay, Cutty Sark, J&B, The Famous Grouse, Ballantine's and Chivas Regal.
Most malt distilleries sell a significant amount of whisky by the cask for blending, and sometimes to private buyers as well. Whisky from such casks is sometimes bottled as a single malt by independent bottling firms such as Duncan Taylor, Master of Malt, Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenhead's, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Murray McDavid, Signatory, Douglas Laing, and others. These are usually labelled with the distillery's name, but not using the distillery's trademarked logos or typefaces. An "official bottling" (or "proprietary bottling"), by comparison, is from the distillery (or its owner). Many independent bottlings are from single casks, and they may sometimes be very different from an official bottling.
For a variety of reasons, some independent brands do not identify which facility distilled the whisky in the bottle. They may instead identify only the general geographical area of the source, or they simply market the product using their own brand name without identifying their source. This may, in some cases, be simply to give the independent bottling company the flexibility to purchase from multiple distillers without changing their labels.
According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch whisky evolved from a Scottish drink called uisge beatha, which means "lively water" or "water of life". The earliest documented record of distillation in Scotland occurred as long ago as 1494, as documented in the Exchequer Rolls, which were tax records of this time, The quote above records "Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae". This was equivalent to about 1,500 bottles, which suggests that distillation was well-established by the late fifteenth century. 
Whisky production was first taxed in 1644, causing a rise in illicit whisky distilling in the country. Around 1780, there were about eight legal distilleries and 400 illegal ones. In 1823, Parliament eased restrictions on licensed distilleries with the "Excise Act", while at the same time making it harder for the illegal stills to operate, thereby ushering in the modern era of Scotch production. Two events helped to increase whisky's popularity: first, a new production process was introduced in 1831 called Coffey or Patent Still (see in section below); the whisky produced with this process was less intense and smoother. Second, the Phylloxera bug destroyed wine and cognac production in France in 1880.
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Whisky was historically produced in pot stills until the development of the continuous still around 1831. In current practice, some finer whiskies are still produced using pot stills, although most whisky production is currently produced by continuous distillation. Under the SWR, single-malt Scotch whisky must be distilled using pot stills.
Malt whisky production begins when the barley is malted—by steeping the barley in water, and then allowing it to get to the point of germination. Malting releases enzymes that break down starches in the grain and help convert them into sugars. When the desired state of germination is reached the malted barley is dried using heated air. Many (but not all) distillers add smoke from a peat-heated fire to give a smoked, earthy flavour to the spirit.
Today only a handful of distilleries have their own maltings; these include Balvenie, Kilchoman, Highland Park,Bowmore, Laphroaig, Springbank. Even those distilleries that malt their own barley produce only a small percentage of the malt required for production. All distilleries order malt from specialised maltsters.
The dried malt (and in the case of grain whisky, other grains) is ground into a coarse flour called "grist". This is mixed with hot water in a large vessel called a mash tun. The grist is allowed to steep.
This process is referred to as "mashing", and the mixture as "mash". In mashing, enzymes that were developed during the malting process are allowed to convert the barley starch into sugar, producing a sugary liquid known as "wort".
The wort is then transferred to another large vessel called a "wash back" where it is cooled. The yeast is added, and the wort is allowed to ferment. The resulting liquid, now at about 5–7% alcohol by volume, is separated from solid matter by filtering, and is a rudimentary form of beer called the "wash".
There are two types of stills in use for the distillation: the pot still (for single malts) and the Coffey still (for grain whisky). Most Scotch malt whisky distilleries distil their product twice; exceptions include the Auchentoshan distillery and Springbank's 'Hazelburn' brand, which retain the Lowlands tradition of triple distillation. A third method is unique to the Springbank distillery's 'Springbank' brand, which is distilled "two-and-a-half-times". This is achieved by distilling half the low wine (1st distillation) for a second time, adding the two halves together and then distilling the complete volume a final time.
For malt whisky the wash is transferred into a wash still. The liquid is heated to the boiling point of alcohol (78 °C / 172 °F), which is lower than the boiling point of water (100 °C / 212 °F). The alcohol evaporates and travels to the top of the still, through the "lyne arm" and into a condenser—where it is cooled and reverts to liquid. This liquid has an alcohol content of about 20% (40 US proof) and is called "low wine".
The low wine is distilled a second time, in a spirit still, and the distillation is divided into three "cuts". The first liquid or cut of the distillation is called "foreshots" and is generally quite toxic due to the presence of the low boiling point alcohol methanol. These are generally saved for further distillation. The stillman looks for the middle cut, which he places in casks for maturation. At this stage it is called new make. Its alcohol content can be anywhere from 60%–75% (120-150 US proof). The third cut is called the feints and is generally quite weak. These are also saved for further distillation.
Grain whiskies are distilled in a column still, which requires a single distillation to achieve the desired alcohol content. Grain whisky is produced by a continuous fractional distillation process, unlike the simple distillation based batch process used for malt whisky. So it is more efficient to operate and the resulting whisky is less expensive.
The maximum distillation purity prescribed in the SWR is 94.8% alcohol by volume (abv) (190 US proof). This allows the spirit to have a rather high level of alcohol purity—approaching that of neutral spirits, and it contrasts with the maximum of 80% abv (160 US proof) allowed for "straight" American whiskey. High levels of alcohol distillation purity can give the whisky a lighter (but less rich) flavour. In practice, Scotch single malts are generally not distilled to very high levels of alcohol content, so that they can retain more of the flavour of the original wash.
Most new-make malt whisky is diluted to about 63.5% a.b.v. before it is placed in casks to mature.
Once distilled the "new-make spirit" is placed into oak casks for the maturation process. Historically, casks previously used for sherry were used (as barrels are expensive, and there was a ready market for used sherry butts). Today, the casks used are typically sherry or bourbon casks, but with many now coming from northern France with its huge supply of aged white oak casks used in both white and red wine production. Sometimes other varieties such as port, Cognac, Madeira, calvados, beer, and Bordeaux wine are used. American whiskey production is a nearly inexhaustible generator of used barrels, due to a United States regulation requiring the use of new, freshly charred oak barrels in the maturation of bourbon and many other types of whisky.
The aging process results in evaporation, so each year in the cask causes a loss of volume as well as a reduction in alcohol. The 1.5–2.0% lost each year is known as the angel's share. Many whiskies along the west coast and on the Hebrides are stored in open storehouses on the coast, allowing the salty sea air to pass on its flavour to the spirit. The distillate must age for at least three years and one day in Scotland to be called Scotch whisky, though most single malts are offered at a minimum of eight years of age. Some believe that older whiskies are inherently better, but others find that the age for optimum flavour development changes drastically from distillery to distillery, or even from cask to cask. Older whiskies are inherently scarcer and usually command significantly higher prices.
Colour can give a clue to the type of cask (sherry or bourbon) used to age the whisky, although the addition of legal "spirit caramel" is sometimes used to darken an otherwise lightly coloured whisky. Sherried whisky is usually darker or more amber in colour, while whisky aged in ex-bourbon casks is usually a golden-yellow/honey colour.
The late 1990s saw a trend towards "wood finishes" in which fully matured whisky is moved from one barrel into another one that had previously aged a different type of alcohol (e.g., port, Madeira, rum, wine, etc.) to add the "finish".
A notable example is the "Black Bowmore", released in batches in 1993, 94 and 95 after 29, 30, 31 years in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. The name evokes the density of colour and complexity of flavour naturally imparted into what was originally water-clear spirit in 1964.
With single malts, the now properly aged spirit may be "vatted", or "married", with other single malts (sometimes of different ages) from the same distillery. The whisky is generally diluted to a bottling strength of between 40% and 46%.
Occasionally, distillers release a "Cask Strength" edition, which is not diluted and usually has an alcohol content of 50–60%.
Many distilleries are releasing "Single Cask" editions, which are the product of a single cask that has not been vatted with whisky from any other casks. These bottles usually have a label that details the date the whisky was distilled, the date it was bottled, the number of bottles produced, the number of the particular bottle, and the number of the cask that produced the bottles.
Many whiskies are chill-filtered before being bottled. In this process, the whisky is chilled to near 0°C (32°F) and passed through a fine filter. The aim is to remove some of the oily/fatty compounds produced during distillation. The chillfiltering prevents the whisky from becoming hazy when in the bottle, when served, when chilled, or when water or ice is added. This only happens at an alcohol content below 46% abv.
Generally bottled whisky over 46% abv indicates that it is non-chill filtered or unchill-filtered, as the spirit generally remains unclouded at this alcohol level.
Many whisky enthusiasts believe that chill-filtration removes some of the flavour and body from the whisky, which is why some consider unchillfiltered whisky superior.
E150B caramel colouring is commonly added to Scotch whisky prior to bottling, to give the whisky a more rich and well-aged appearance. No other additives are allowed in Scotch whisky. This contrasts with the rules governing Canadian whisky production, which allow the addition of other flavourings as well as caramel, and with the rules governing American whiskey, which do not allow additives in "straight" whiskey. The use of the caramel additive must be disclosed when the whisky is sold in some jurisdictions, although not in Scotland itself.
Scotland was traditionally divided into four regions: The Highlands, Lowland, Islay, and Campbeltown.
Speyside, encompassing the Spey river valley in north-east Scotland, once considered part of the Highlands, has almost half of the total number of distilleries in Scotland within its geographic boundaries; consequently it is officially recognized as a region unto itself.
Campbeltown was removed as a region several years ago, yet was recently re-instated as a recognized production region.
The Islands is not recognized as a region by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and is considered part of the Highlands region.
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