A Guide to Selecting Scotch Whisky


Scotch single malt is definitely a fascinating drink. Scottish whisky makers are required to adhere to various strict guidelines in order for their products to be classed as Scotch. First, it has to be entirely produced in Scotland. It shouldn’t also contain any added substances other than water and caramel. It must also be bottled with at least 40% ABV and be aged at least 3 years.

Scots have a reputation to uphold, and that explains the numerous, strict standards they place on how modern Scotch should be made. Each malt distillery has its own historical house style. Many variables tend to influence the flavour, including fermentation regimes, malting, wood policy, condenser and still design. These hundreds of odd malt distilleries, with their different wood programs, can formulate a countless number of malts and blended whisky.

Selecting the Right Bottle

Scotch has its own geographic intricacies, just like in the wine world.

Lowland – Whisky from this region is considered to be more mild, delicate and mellow. The three main distilleries from this region include Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Bladnoch.

Highland – This is the largest geographic region for Scotch production. It features well-known distilleries such as Talisker, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie and Oban.

Islay – This region is famous for heavy, smokier Scotch varieties, having eight distilleries with each having its own unique character. These include Bowmore, Ardbeg and Laphroaig.

Speyside – This is the region with the largest number of distilleries. These include The Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Aberlour.

Campbelltown – This is the smallest among all whisky producing regions. It is home to three distilleries namely Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank.

The First Time

The first time you’re choosing your first Scotch has a vast effect. It determines whether you’ll make or break your relationship with it very quickly. This is not the regular spirit you may be used to, guzzling for the fun of it just like you did on tequila on a spring break. There are several reasons behind that. One, it’s quite expensive. Secondly, it isn’t intended for such a purpose. Young people find selecting their first bottle of Scotch quite a challenge. Considering that Scotch is expensive, they tend to worry about choosing poorly.

When selecting your first Scotch, I would highly recommend you to stick with a gentler one. If you’ve never taken whisky before without mixing it in a certain cocktail, then I would recommend you to start with Auchentoshan as it contains minimal peat. Following it is Dalwhinnie, a very light and smooth spirit. In fact, it bears ‘The Gentle Spirit’ as its tagline. By starting out on one of these two, you’ll get amazed with the aromas and flavour profiles, experiencing very minimal burns.

Most bartenders would suggest either Glenfiddich or Glenlivet. It is only because the two are the most popular in various restaurants. However, they would be great options for 2nd or 3rd tastings. If you take one of the two on your first time, you may find them a bit more powerful than what you would expect or like.

When it comes to Scotch, the aroma and flavour profile may differ slightly, depending on one’s individual preferences. With time, you’ll get accustomed to the natural Scotch burn. You’ll actually find it easy if you are able to separate taste from sensation as you try out different spirits. By doing so, you’ll begin to ascertain your likes and what you dislike, hence suitably influencing your purchasing decisions.

If you wish to take Single Malts, Glen Moray would be the ideal point to start from. Their whiskies are popularly known for their rich, gentle and friendly flavours that don’t burn the mouth or even intimidate palates. In the long run, it won’t matter so much which one you decide to purchase.

The main key is usually trying all kinds and expanding your pallet. You’ll notice that each new bottle will give you its own education. You shouldn’t also worry that your first Scotch isn’t love at the first taste. You’ll develop a taste with time; rest assured that each subsequent tasting will make the whole affair very enjoyable.

Photo source Jack Zalium
{ 3 comments… add one }
  • BuzzedAldrin May 19, 2015, 7:33 am

    Scotch is a hard drink to grow fond of. For whiskey aficionados, it’s easy to fall in love with the boldness of it, but as a first foray into whiskey in general I wouldn’t recommend it, instead offering mellow Canadian blends or maybe even charcoal filtered bourbons. Purely to get a feel for what to expect.

    Compared to Canadian whiskey and bourbon, scotch has very little in common with the peat flavors being the sharpest contrast compared to the more unrefined flavors that bourbon (for example) possesses.

    Of course, some brands of scotch resemble their American cousins, especially those brands that import and use barrels that were used for aging bourbon.

    If i had to suggest a scotch to start, I’d suggest the one I first tried; Chivas Regal. It’s a fine, if a bit expensive drink that is best served room temperature, but a light chill won’t affect your senses too much to lessen the enjoyment.

  • bacon.j August 21, 2015, 5:34 pm

    A lot of great info and advice here. I am more partial to bourbon myself but I have been known to enjoy the occasional scotch. I have tried and really enjoyed Glen Livet, It is my go-to spirit for sipping while enjoying a nice cigar. I never really started out on the “gentler” side of scotch, but it might be interesting to go back, try some of the easier to drink ones and work my way back up and see what subtleties my pallet picks up in the process! Cheers, thanks for the great article!

  • winewitheverything September 20, 2015, 10:11 am

    I like a good Scotch. It’s not something I drink often, but it’s something I definitely enjoy, on occasion. Straight up, with the merest ‘dribble’ of water, just to loosen all those wonderful flavours. My favourites are the big ‘peaty’ single malts – a Laphraig or an Ardbeg – but to be honest, if it’s Scottish, and it’s a single malt, then the chances are I am going to like it. I discovered Littlemill a good few years ago now – sadly, the distillery is no longer in operation, and now stocks are very limited meaning that a bottle costs upwards of £50.00, but it’s worth every penny.

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