You know what’s more pretentious than a wine snob that will only drink classified growths? A scotch drinker. I’m kidding (no, I’m not).
I’ve had a number of die-hard scotch clients in my career and I have never been able to convert a single one to a different beverage. And not only is it pointless to suggest a different type of whisk(e)y to a scotch drinker, it usually is a waste of breath to mention switching from a blended scotch to single malt and vice versa. You also better find out if ice cubes are tolerated or considered sacrelige because a wrong guess could mean having a new hole torn in a sensitive area. What is it that is so crutial about this bevvy? Hell, if I know, but here’s what I can tell you:
Scotch whisky (notice the absence of the ‘e’) is a malt or grain whisky distilled, aged a minimum of three years, and bottled in Scotland. That’s the simple part.
There are five main whisky producing regions in Scotland;
Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay, each with a distinct style and sense of terroir, generally defined by how potently the peat smoke is sensed. Peat is prehistoric compost that is cut, dried, and smoked to add flavor to the malt during the drying process. It adds a unique rustic, earthy nuance to the whisky. Some folks love it and those that don’t avoid scotch.
In each of these regions we break down, even further, into two main types of scotch – blended and single malt. This difference is the question I am asked most often and usually serves to confuse more than it answers, so I’m gonna keep it really cut and dry here. If you have more questions, please send me a message or comment and I can develop.
- A blended scotch whisky is a blend of various whiskies from multiple batches and distilleries. There is not a distillery named J&B or Johnnie Walker or Buchanan. All of these are different brand names owned by Diageo that employs Master Blenders to combine seperate batches of whisky to arrive at consistent “house” styles.
- A single malt scotch whisky is also a blend of various whiskies from multiple batches, but originating from one single distillery. The distilleries employ their own Master Distillers that typically double as the Master Blender. It doesn’t matter if the whisky was aged in European or American oak, finished in Pomerol barrels, or if the some of the blend was aged 3 years and some 18. If it comes from one distillery (The Glenlivet, Ardberg, or Dalmore, for example) it may be called a single malt.
To avoid proving how much of an outsider I really am, here’s where I’ll be shuttin me geggie as far as technical aspects go.
ABRACHAN Triple Oaked Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (>€15)
For the past year I’ve picked up on a little industry buzz about the store brand blended scotch for Lidl (supermarket chain). I’d read it had blown away the bigger name brands at several European competitions. As a wine judge I know better than to get caught up in that type of spin, but I thought that for 15 euros, I wouldn’t be risking much.
The label reads that it is a rich, silky, and smooth blend of single malts (trying to sound more chic than reality without using false claims) and that the use of bourban barrels, oloroso sherry butts, and tawny port ‘cigars’ have added a complexity to the blend.
The first thing I noticed is that the color is really dark – like something that should have been aged at least 18 years.
Yeah, they’re adding caramel coloring. It happens more often than you’d think (what, you thought Señors Cuervo and Bacardi really age all that “gold” tequila and rum? hahaha).
The nose furthered my suspicions when the bouquet offered no wood scent – bourban, sherry or otherwise. I did pick up on some black cherry notes that were pleasant and a hint of smoke.
The mouthfeel was not what I would describe as rich, silky, and smooth. Not at all. It was actually rather thin and had a short finish, indicitive of very young spirits. The alcohol burned – and not in the good way. The flavors were orange peel, candied black cherry, sea salt, earth.
I decided that this would be a mixing scotch, so I added some Coca Cola to finish the glass. I had a headache within two hours. Get what you pay for, dammit.
So, no, this will not be poured into my spirits decanter because 1) it does not merit the honor and 2) I already have BULLEIT Rye Whiskey in there.