Know your Scotch
Sponsored by The Celt
If you don’t know anything about Scotland — or whisky, for that matter — buying the right Scotch can be tricky. But you can enjoy it with just a basic understanding of what affects its taste.
First, let’s take a short trip to Scotland.
Speyside, Highland, Lowland, the Islands and Campbelltown are generally considered Scotch’s five regions, with Islay sometimes named as a sixth. But does it actually matter where the Scotch is made?
It does. A lot.
Speyside sits in a valley of rivers. It has the most whisky distilleries of all the regions. It is lavish with fruity flavors including apple and pear. Other spices and ingredients like honey and vanilla can also be added. There are a number of different-flavored Scotches from this region given its large land size.
With the Highlands, you can taste the oak from the casks. Honey also plays a role in Scotch from this region, as does peat. When someone says a Scotch is peaty, it means the peat used in the distilling process had a strong impact on its taste. But it also depends on where the distillery is located. If it’s near the coast, it will have a saltier feel to it.
Whisky producers in the Lowlands use the triple distillery method, which makes it have a higher alcohol content but makes the whisky lighter because it gets rid of things like oil and protein. For people who enjoy fruiter or sweeter whiskies, this is the one to go with.
Campbelltown, the historic hub of Scotch Distilling, dominated whisky production until Prohibition hit in America. Fruit, toffee and vanilla are some of the tastes you get with it. But it can also be smoky.
Scotches from the Islands can be both citrusy and smoky. Brine, oil, black pepper, heather and honey are used in the whiskies.
Islay has nine distilleries. Scotch from here can be strong because of the peat used in it. It can also be a smoky because the barley is exposed to burning peat as it dries. The peat on the island is grown on rain and sea spray, which affects its taste.
What the label means
Other terms to know when discussing Scotch include “single malt” and “blended.”
When someone refers to malt whisky, they mean the whisky is made only from malted barley in two, or occasionally three, copper pot stills by a batch process. Single malt whisky means it’s the product on a single distillery.
If you’re having a drink with someone, and they let you know that they used blended Scotch in the cocktail, that means it was a blend of single malts from two or more distilleries. It’s a mix of both malt and grain whiskies.
The length of time that a Scotch spends in a barrel also affects its value and taste. Some whiskies that have been barrel-aged for 30 years can go for thousands of dollars. Some bars sell old-fashioned drinks with a shot of them that cost upward of $500. But you get what you pay for.
With that understanding, we have a few whiskies to recommend to people who are both newbies to it as well as aficionados. Try the classic single malt, Highland Park 12. It’s an affordable great tasting Scotch from the Highland Region.
Looking for a unique single malt? How about the Auchentoshan? It’s distilled in three casks from the Lowland region.
Want something peaty? Look no further than the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, a single malt from Islay region.
People who want a smooth blended Scotch can pick up the Monkey Shoulder, which is sweeter and smoother. For a stronger Scotch, Aberlour A’bunadh Cask Strength, which is 100-120 proof is a good purchase.
And for the collectors or those who want something special, Macallan 21 has been aged for 21 years, making it rare and valuable.
All of these Scotches can be tried at the Celt in Idaho Falls. When you ask the bartender for a cocktail made with one of these labels, don’t be afraid to talk about your newfound Scotch knowledge.