- It's spelled "whisky" when referring to Scotch, "whiskey" pretty much everywhere else, including Irish whiskey and Canadian whiskey.
- The most widely recognizable signature of Scotch is the presence of some measure of peat, a smoky flavor created by the burning of peat moss to dry the barley. For a true beginner tasting of whiskies, taste a Scotch against an American bourbon and an Irish whiskey - you'll immediately see and smell the smoky difference.
- For the purposes of this post, we are only interested in single malt Scotch whisky - that is, whisky made in Scotland purely from water and barley.
- There are five main whisky regions of Scotland, each generally known for a certain kind of style: Islands, Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown. You're most likely to find Highlands, Speyside, and Islay at your local liquor store.
- Like all rules, there are exceptions.
- There is no right or wrong answer in tasting - you like what you like, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
On to the TastingWe assembled a selection of seven single malt Scotch whiskies (oh the things we do for our work!) and these handy dandy tasting note sheets then set out to the hard work of having fun. Tasting scotch is not much different than tasting wine, with the exception of the important role of water. My grandmother always used to drink Pendleton whiskey with a 60/40 whiskey:water ratio. A little bit of water brings out the flavors and aromas of whisky and makes the drinking experience less harsh. (Never ice, which dulls the flavors.) To taste: pour the whiskey into a Glencairn glass or a small tumbler and observe color and smell. Make a note of your reaction. Have a small sip here, swirling it around the mouth and "smelling" it again with your tongue as well as nose. Pay attention to smell, taste, and "finish" (how it lingers after it has been swallowed - the flavors and the length of time). Then add anywhere from a few drops to up to 20% room temperature filtered or spring water and taste again. Are there any differences? Observe your reactions to smell, taste, and finish once again and make a few more notes.
The VerdictHere's our opinion after the resulting taste test of the seven we sampled:
- Everyday Sipper: Glenmorangie (10 yr). Glenmorangie is the most popular scotch in Scotland, and it's a classic. Creamy, sweet, light in color.
- For Feeling Nostalgic about Scotland: Oban. Read the history on the bottle of the Oban sea cave area in the West Highlands, dating back to 5000BC, and try to resist the urge to research flights to Scotland. Mid-range in cost, Oban tastes like the sea caves it's distilled by: salty, hay like rope, wood and vanilla.
- Special Occasions: Glenlivet (18 yr). Dried fruits, nutty, and sweet.
- Bonfires & Camping: Macallan (10 yr) or Glenfiddich (12 yr). Best buys, light in color, and consistent in flavor.
- Extra Cold Days: Lagavulin (16 yr). Nick Offerman's favorite is also the most expensive one we tried. Lagavulin is from Islay, known for its "peat bombs." Super smoky, it is the most complex tasting. Almost medicinal and salty. This is the whisky you should be tasting when you are alone or in limited company, giving it your full attention.
- Dinner Party:Dalwhinnie (15 yr). Clean, classic, floral, not too peaty, and reasonably priced, it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser.