Scotch 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Scotland’s Whisky

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What Is Scotch?

While all scotch is whisky, not all whisky is scotch. Just like tequila, which can only come from Mexico, and Port, which can only come from Portugal, scotch can only come from Scotland. According to the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009, to be called a scotch it must:

  • Be mashed, fermented, distilled, and matured in Scotland
  • Be in part made from malted barley
  • Be fermented with yeast
  • Be matured in oak casks for at least 3 years
  • Be at least 40 percent alcohol by volume

How Is Scotch Made?

The production of scotch is comparably easy. First, barley is soaked and allowed to germinate until the starch of the grain has become malt sugar. If this heating is done with peat moss, the whisky will take on a smoky, oily character. Second, the dried barley (now called malt) is coarsely ground, heated in hot water (where it becomes wort), and allowed to ferment using yeast (where it becomes wash). Once fermented, the sugar is extracted by adding hot water, and the resulting liquid produces a beer without the addition of hops. This beer is then distilled twice in copper pot stills. The spirit is then matured in oak casks for at least three years. High-class single malt whiskies are sometimes matured for decades.