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Stuff I Learned This Year: Scotch Edition

I remember the first time I tried scotch like I were yesterday. I was with some of my nerdy science friends, one of whom worked in a lab where the lounge has an amazing view of the False Creek. So a group of us went there to enjoy the view and drink some scotch. And I thought the scotch was terrible! I did not enjoy the smokey peatiness at all. 

And so, for many years, I thought I just didn’t like scotch. It was only fairly recently that I learned that not all scotch is peated and tried some non-peated scotches, which I quite liked.

So on our recent trip to Scotland, we made sure to go to a few scotch distilleries to learn more about it! We went to two distilleries, both of which are very new:

Clydeside Distillery
Clydeside Distillery
Gift when staying Isle of Raasay Distillery guest house

We actually stayed at the Isle of Raasay distillery, which also has guest accommodations attached to the distillery. And when you stay they, they give you this little sample of their Raasay While We Wait single malt scotch whiskey and two scotch glasses (shown in the photo above).

I’ll write more about both of these distilleries whenever I finally get around to properly blogging about that trip. For this posting, I’m going to focus on things that I learned about scotch!

In no particular order:

  • Like Canadian whisky, Scotch whisky has to be aged for at least 3 years in a barrel1. In addition, it must be:
    • distilled in Scotland
    • aged in Scotland
  • “Single malt” scotch whisky, as the name suggests, must be made from only malted barley (and no other cereals). It must also be made at a single distillery (though it can be made in different batches) and in a pot still.
  • “Single grain” scotch whisky must also be made at a single distillery.
  • “Blended malt” scotch whisky is a whiskey made by blending two or more single malt scotch whiskies and “blended scotch whiskey” is a whiskey made by blending one or more single malt whiskies with one (or more) single grain scotch whiskies.
  • Peated whisky is made by blowing smoke from a peat fire to dry the malt you use to make the whisky.
  • At one point in history, the further you were from England, the less tax you paid, os there are more distilleries in the northern part of Scotland than in the southern part.
  • Whiskies that are made or aged on the islands tend to have a bit of salty taste to them from the salt air.
  • After prohibition ended in the US, they made a law that all bourbon had to be aged in virgin oak barrels (the law was meant to create more jobs for coopers (i.e., barrel makers)). A lot of scotch distilleries will use bourbon barrels to age their scotch, because those barrels were cheap to by (since the bourbon makers couldn’t use them a second time).

These are the different regions of Scotland and the types of scotch you get from each:

Clydeside Distillery

I tend to like the Highland scotches.

In addition to the two aforementioned, distilleries, we tried to go to Torabhaig Distillery, which we happened to drive by well, but they were closed on Sundays. Here’s a photo of my sneaking past the “no entry” sign.

Torabhaig Distillery

When we were in Glasgow, we went to a pub called The Pot Still, where they had over 700 whiskies. The bartender there told Scott that you don’t call a scotch whisky “smooth”, you call it “soft”. But then we heard lots of other Scots referring to whisky as “smooth”, and I’ve seen scotches described as “smooth” on packaging for scotch, so I am doubtful that this is true. Regardless, it was a pretty good pub!

The Pot Still

We also checked out a place called the Scotch Whisky Experience when we were in Edinburgh. We didn’t do any of their tours, but we did check out their large whisky shop!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

While there, Scott bought a bottle of Royal Lochnagar 12 year old single malt:

Royal Lochnagar

And I bought my bottle – Glen Deveron 16 year single malt – at the Duty Free at the airport. Did you know that you can do scotch tastings at the Duty Free at the airport? I told them I wanted a smooth Highland whisky and they brought out several for us to try!

Glen Deveron scotch

We were sad that we were only allowed to bring back one bottle of scotch each!

  1. You can read the whole Scotch Whisky Regulations as http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/2890/contents/made if you are so inclined. []

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