On July 27, we recognize an aged whisky distilled from malted barley. It is National Scotch Day!
This particular whisky first and foremost must be made in Scotland. It must be fermented from malted barley, aged in oak barrels for at least three years and have an ABV of less than 94.8%. While most Scotch is made with barley, water and yeast, other grains can be included, but no fermentation additives, per law.
- There are five distinct categories of Scotch whisky including single malt Scotch, single grain Scotch, blended malt Scotch, blended grain Scotch, and blended Scotch.
- The Babylonians of Mesopotamia were likely the first people to distill alcohol in the 2nd millennium BC.
- The earliest records of the distillation of alcohol for the purpose of drinking date back to 13th century Italy, where harder alcohols were distilled from wine.
- Distillation spread to today’s Great Britain in the 15th century, and the first evidence of whisky production in Scotland comes from an entry in the Exchequer Rolls for 1494 where malt is sent “To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae”, enough to make about 500 bottles.
- There are mainly two types of Scotch whisky – Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Blended Scotch Whisky.
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky is made from 100% malted barley and distilled at a single distillery.
- Blended Scotch Whisky is made by blending together a number of single malts and grain whiskies.
- 90% of all Scotch whisky sold in the market comprises Blended Scotch Whisky.
- The whisky in ‘Scotch Whisky’ is always spelled without an ‘e’.
- In English-speaking countries other than England, Scotch whisky is often referred to as simply ‘Scotch’.
- Scotch was once illegal. The English Malt Tax of 1725 shut down much of Scotland’s whisky production and drove many Highlanders to bootlegging. Not that this stopped people from drinking the stuff. Even King George IV called for his Glenlivet by name. Of course, the spirit back then was not quite the same as it is now. Distillers only started aging their whisky much later – as late as the 19th century, some speculate.
- Your Scotch may be fudging its age a little. Your whisky may claim to be 21 years old, but it may in fact be quite a bit older. Or some of it, at least. The age statement on the label refers to the minimum number of years the spirit has spent maturing in barrels. Most whiskies — even single malts — are a blend of casks from different years.
- Whisky and wood make magic. When it goes into the barrel, Scotch is clear. It gets its color from interacting with the barrel. The older the whisky, generally speaking, the darker. Over time, the amount of spirit in the barrel will diminish, at a rate of about 4% per year. The part that evaporates is referred to as the “angel’s share.” After 25 years, more than 40% of the barrel will have gone to the angels.
- France consumes more Scotch than any other country. (The U.K. is the second-biggest consumer and the U.S. the third.) More Scotch is sold in France in one month than Cognac in an entire year. Scots can thank the phylloxera epidemic that plagued European vineyards for their whisky’s popularity: the infestation resulted not only in a shortage of wine, but a shortage of brandy.
- It’s a common misconception that single malt whisky is the product of one cask. In fact, it is the product of a single distillery and may actually come from several casks therein.
- Scotland is home to more than 20 million casks of maturing whisky. That’s almost four for every person living there.
- Whisky in Gaelic reads ‘uisge beathe’, which means ‘water of life’.
- Whisky stored in barrels gradually evaporates at an approximate rate of 2% a year. This is referred to as the famous ‘angels’ share’.