What is Scotch?
Unless you’re completely and utterly new to the world of alcohol, we’re going to go ahead and assume you don’t need to be told: “Scotch is a kind of alcohol.” But just in case you are that new, there you go.
But the question “What is Scotch?” really leads us to several other questions. What is scotch made from, and what does scotch taste like? How easy is it to buy scotch online, and are there some interesting scotch drinks you could mix up at your next cocktail party?
When you’re at a brick-and-mortar liquor store, there’s usually someone there to answer these kinds of questions. But when you order scotch online, there’s not usually anyone around to ask. We’ve compiled some of the basic facts about scotch and answered some of the most common questions. So get reading, and begin a love affair with one of the most popular liquors on the planet.
How is Scotch Made?
Scotch is a distilled alcohol that is made exclusively in the country of Scotland. If you want to know what is scotch made from, as with most alcohols, scotch begins with a fermented mash of grains. The mash is distilled (has a large amount of water removed) to increase the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of the liquor.
All scotches must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years to be officially considered “Scotch.” During this time, the liquor absorbs flavor and color from the barrels, as well as losing “The Angel’s Share,” the amount of alcohol lost to evaporation during the aging process. Other factors can affect the flavor of scotch. Some oceanside distilleries have saltier whiskies than those in the highlands.
What is Peat?
When the question “What does scotch taste like?” is asked, one of the most famous (or infamous?) aromas and flavors of scotch is peat. Yep. The smell, and flavor, of loamy, wet dirt. Why on Earth would anyone want that?
Well, peat’s contribution to scotch works a little differently. Peat is a rich mixture of earth, wood, plant, and organic matter that is essential to the formation of wetlands and bogs. Chunks of this material are chopped from the ground and dried for 30 hours. The resulting logs are used in the fires that dry barley malt headed for the mash.
The result of this exposure is a smoky, peaty scent and flavor that is highly prized in scotch. So the next time someone makes a joke about scotch tasting like a bog or swamp, they’re not too far off.
What Pairs Well with Scotch?
So many things and nothing at all! How to drink scotch is a contentious issue, and some say that it should simply be enjoyed by itself. But a vocal group of scotch enthusiasts is now suggesting various other ways to enjoy scotch. We’ll break this one down into two sections: food and drinks. First up - lovely things to chew on while you’re sipping a dram.
Scotch and Food
We discussed above the importance of scent and flavor with scotch. The best thing to keep in mind when pairing food with scotch is which of the types of scotch you have chosen to drink. It’s best to avoid very spicy and fatty foods, or dishes heavy in garlic. These powerful flavors and smells will often overwhelm the flavors and smell of the scotch.
Chocolate is a great favorite to pair with scotch. Well-crafted dark chocolate has as much care given to subtle flavor and aroma as a scotch does, so the right pairing can enhance the experience of both. The citrus note in many scotches will complement, and be complemented by, orange chocolate. A single malt scotch benefits from the accompaniment of salted hazelnut chocolate. Check reviews of particular scotches (see some below) and try to find chocolate with the same flavors. Experimentation is key!
If your tastes run a little more savory, look no further than cheese. Some cheeses are aged for as long as some scotches. A nice nibble of cheese and sip of scotch sounds lovely. For the smokier scotches (yes, the ones that have that “bog” flavor to them), a well-aged cheddar is a lovely compliment. Spicier scotches may benefit from a strong blue cheese.
Some other suggestions are dried fruit and nuts - the different flavors of these snacks will bring out hints of fruit and nut that may be buried in the flavor profile of the scotch. Meatloaf is apparently very good with scotch as well, especially with a good, smoky barbecue sauce.
Scotch Drinks and Cocktails
As we mentioned above, there are purists out there who believe that to experience a scotch to its fullest, it should be sipped, around room temperature, from a special glass that funnels the aromas and allows the scotch to warm properly. And, having tried it, we can highly recommend this method. But some find the potent smells and flavors of scotch a bit much, and that’s why we have mixed drinks!
A delicious-sounding entry for how to drink scotch comes from famed distiller The Glenlivet. They offer a stomach-warming treat in their Pumpkin Hot Toddy. An ounce of scotch mixed with cinnamon, pumpkin crème brûlé concentrate, and maple syrup, all stirred into a cup of hot water. It almost makes us wish for Winter.
On the other side of things, the simple Scotch and Soda is a classic pairing of the liquor. “More a serving suggestion than a ‘recipe’”, the type of soda and the type of scotch can actually give this “simple” drink very different flavors each time you make it.
Let’s do one more, and it’s got to be the Blood and Sand because we’re suckers for a cocktail with a cool name. This one is a complex mixture of scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, and orange juice. Fruity and delicious, this is perhaps one of those drinks to mix up for the friend who wants to join in your scotch night, but really hates the flavor.
Hopefully, this little primer has whet your whistle, and now you’d like to know some of the top scotch brands before you head off to order scotch online. Well, look no further. You knew we had you covered, right?
What are the Top Scotch Brands?
If you’re starting to buy scotch online, you’ll notice immediately that this is not inexpensive alcohol. Some of the oldest and rarest scotches have price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, the distillers who create these incredible collector's items also make more affordable, and just as enjoyable, alternatives for the rest of us. These are some of the choicest brands of scotch online.
Johnnie Walker Scotch
By far the most popular scotch, in 2021, Johnnie Walker shipped 14.1 million cases of their products around the world. Johnnie Walker’s origins are 200 years old, with the first John Walker producing his homemade whiskey from a family-owned grocery store. Their distinctive square bottle, 24 degree-slanted label, and the iconic “Walking Man” make Johnnie Walker an instantly recognizable brand the world over.
The next most popular scotch of 2021 is Ballantine’s. Amazingly, they shipped only half of the cases shipped by Johnnie Walker, a real testament to the popularity of that brand. Ballantine’s also traces its origins to a Scottish grocer. George Ballantine moved from grocer to distiller in 1836, and the company has been making scotch ever since.
Although a popular brand, Glenfiddich ships significantly fewer cases per year than a lot of other scotch brands. Glenfiddich is a slightly pricier scotch, but, according to the website, is “the World’s Most Awarded Single Malt Scotch Whisky.” That’s got to be reason enough to search out this lauded liquor.
You know the history. You know the popular brands. Now here are some interesting selections. When you’re looking for scotch online, Country Wine & Spirits has got you covered. When you’re looking to buy scotch online, we can’t be beat!
A blended scotch, aged in oak casks, this mixture is a smooth, creamy scotch. Dewar’s and sons have been in the scotch business since 1897, and know their stuff. White label is well-paired with foods and brings out many citrus, pear, and honey flavors with each sip.
Glenfiddich’s 12 Year single malt is a reliable and delicious scotch. With notes of pear and oak, this scotch also bears some sweeter notes, such as butterscotch and cream. Best sipped neat, the flavor is smooth and mellow.
A uniquely-flavored and aged scotch, the Quinta Ruban is not filtered like most scotches and is “extra matured” in port casks. After 10 years maturing in oak barrels, the time in the port casks creates chocolatey notes in the scotch.
The 2008 edition of The Whisky Bible named this scotch World Whisky of the Year. If that’s not enough to entice you, the Ardbeg 10 also boasts an incredible mix of aromas and flavors, from toffee and cinnamon in the nose to citrus and floral flavor, to the scent of smoked fish! Any alcohol that can combine those smells and tastes in an award-winning whisky is worth a try!
Despite the name, this Dewar’s 8-year blend is still a scotch, produced completely in Scotland. The Japanese influence comes from the Mizunara, or Japanese oak casks, in which the scotch is finished. This creates a rich blend of honey, cinnamon, and sandalwood in the scents and flavors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are all scotches also whiskies?
Scotch is a whisky, not a whiskey, that comes exclusively from Scotland. It was first made from malted barley, followed in the 18th century by wheat and rye. All scotches are whiskies, but not all whiskies are scotches. Location is everything!
Is scotch a whiskey or a wine?
As noted above, scotch is a whisky. Both whisky and wine begin as fermented mash, but scotch goes through the distillation process. Then, like wine, scotch is stored and aged in barrels. This allows the ABV to increase to the minimum 40% strength required by Scottish regulations.
What is the difference between scotch and whiskey?
Scotch is a whisky that is produced exclusively in Scotland. Whiskey is the term used for this kind of distilled alcohol when it is produced in Ireland or the United States (also see below). Whisky produced in Canada, another well-regarded producer, is spelled without the “e,” just like scotch.
What is the difference between scotch and bourbon?
Scotch and bourbon are two different kinds of whisk(e)y. Scotch is a whisky produced in Scotland. It is prepared and aged in very specific ways, including drying grains over a peat fire and aging in oak barrels. Bourbon, on the other hand, is a sweeter whiskey. A large portion of the mash is made from corn. Production is regulated, and to be called bourbon, a whiskey must be made in the United States, just like scotch and Scotland.