How to Drink Scotch the Right Way
The world of whiskey certainly carries with it its share of complexities and expectations. The hugely popular spirit also has attached to it quite the extensive culture. Breaking into that culture can seem like a pretty intimidating task, especially when you don’t know the first thing about whiskey! In this article, we’re helping you out with one particular whiskey that is particularly popular amongst aficionados – scotch.
We’re giving you a complete guide to understanding, choosing, and drinking scotch. We’ll start with the basics, including what scotch is and how it’s made. Then, we’ll give you a complete guide to drinking and tasting this popular spirit.
What Is Scotch?
First, if you’ve come into this article as a complete beginner, you probably have one question – what exactly is scotch? The short answer is that scotch is a particular variety of whiskey which is manufactured in Scotland. There are actually a pretty complex set of Scottish laws under which the whiskey must be made in order to be considered Scotch.
Scotch whisky is generally either grain whisky or malt whisky. Grain whisky is any whisky made from grains aside from barley. Malt whisky is the more popular variant of scotch, especially in North America. Malt whisky refers to the malting process, and the whisky is made with malted barley. Malt has a signature, rich taste, which many scotch drinkers prefer.
Scotch can also be a “blend” of both malt and grain whiskey, and is commonly known as “blended scotch”.
Another aspect of scotch that is so unique is the “peating” process. The barley used to make the whisky is actually smoked with peat moss. This gives a lot of scotches their signature “smoky” flavor. The taste of peat is very prominent in many scotches.
Of course, once you dive into the world of scotch, you will quickly notice that there are many different types of Scotch. As a new scotch drinker, you should probably understand at least the basics. Here are some quick descriptions of the types of scotch you are likely to encounter:
Single Malt: Single malt refers to scotch which is made with only one type of malt – barley. Single malt scotch is made in individual batches. This is one of the most popular variants of scotch.
Single Grain: Single grain is scotch which is made in a single Scottish distillery. It can be made using any grain.
Blended Malt: A mix of two or more single malt scotches.
Blended Grain: A mix of two or more single grain scotches.
Blended Scotch: A blend of at least one single grain and one single malt.
As you can see, it quickly gets pretty confusing. As a scotch newcomer, you might be wondering where to even start. After all, knowing the difference is one thing, but knowing the difference by taste is another. But don’t worry too much, even the most seasoned scotch drinkers might have difficulty with this. After all, the main thing is just that you find a brand of scotch that you enjoy. People get pretty caught up in the intricacies of scotch, but you shouldn’t do it to the point where it overwhelms you!
So simply try out some different types of scotch, see what you like and what you don’t. After all, it’s all personal taste, and there’s no wrong answers. You can’t really go wrong with a nice Glenfiddich.
How to Drink Scotch
Now that we’ve covered the basics of scotch, let’s move on to the next stage of our beginner scotch course. We’re talking about actually drinking the scotch. Drinking something might seem pretty simple. But, as with many alcoholic drinks, there are certain ways to do it which capture the full flavor and experience.
These methods may seem a little silly to a newcomer, but try to remember that it’s all about capturing that experience. Scotch is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, so adhering to custom is really just a way of sharing this experience. And some of these methods really do make a noticeable difference in how scotch tastes and smells.
Picking a Glass
First up, scotch is best enjoyed in a proper scotch glass. For this, most scotch drinkers prefer a tulip glass. The tulip glass does a great job concentrating the scent of the whiskey, so that you really experience the scent and the taste when you take a sip. These types of glass are also clean and classic looking, a great addition to the shelf of any bartender.
Serving the Scotch
Next up, we get to pouring yourself a nice glass of scotch. This is actually kind of a complicated undertaking in itself. You might have heard all the terminology – “neat”, “on the rocks”, “splash of water”, etc. Let’s take a look at all the ways you can enjoy a scotch.
Adding Water to Scotch
A traditional way to drink scotch is with a small bit of added water. The added water acts to “open up” the flavors of the scotch. It depends largely on personal tastes, but many scotch drinkers only drink their scotch with a splash of water. Be sure to use spring water as opposed to tap water. It is best done with water that has no impurities. The water can be room temperature, or a bit chilled in order to cool down the Scotch.
Neat or With Ice?
Next up is the classic debate, neat or on the rocks? The traditional way to drink scotch is neat. It is meant to be drank just as it is made. No need to add anything, just pour a room temperature glass of Scotch and enjoy.
However, rules were made to be broken, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your scotch with some ice. After all, the “best” way to drink something is really just the way that you enjoy. Ice is really personal preference. A larger ice cube will melt slower, and slow the rate at which the drink chills. Smaller ice cubes will melt faster, and dilute the Scotch faster as well. You can also buy whiskey cubes, which are chilled pieces of metal or soapstone, which cool the drink without diluting it. It’s really up to you when it comes to ice!
Scotch is generally stored and served at room temperature. This is the traditional way to drink scotch, and the way it is meant to be drank. Of course, the ice may influence the temperature of the Scotch.
Next up, there might be the temptation, based on what you have seen with wine drinkers, to swirl the whisky around in the glass before you drink it. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a recommended tactic for scotch. Swirling actually releases alcohol from the drink, which compromises both the taste and the alcohol content.
So, your glass of scotch is poured and ready to consume. Next up, we have the best part, drinking it! Of course, you can drink it however you want, but there are certainly some methods which have come to be considered more “traditional” when it comes to drinking scotch. These methods were largely developed as they allow you to experience the scotch with scent as well as taste. Scent is a huge part of our perception of taste overall, and the following method allows you to experience the scotch as the distillers intended:
First up is the inhale. The inhale allows you to experience the aroma of the scotch by scent beforehand. This gives you the full range of sensory experience, and allows you to experience the scotch as was intended.
The best way to do this is to hold the glass up to your nose and mouth. Open your mouth slightly, and simply inhale. This allows the flavor to waft through your nose and mouth, and for you to experience the complete scent. Some scotch drinkers consider this their favorite part!
Next, of course, is the sip. Take a small sip at first, and let the whiskey sit on your tongue for a few seconds. Really let the flavors pass over your entire tongue, so that you taste the entirety of the whiskey. The first sip is the best sip, so best sure to savor the flavor!
Next up is the simple enjoyment of your favorite scotch. Take your time and really savor it! There’s no rush, and if you’re drinking with friends and family, enjoy the conversation and the atmosphere as well. A good scotch is really just a complement to a good night!
The World of Scotch
We hope you’ve enjoyed our comprehensive beginner’s guide to drinking scotch. There’s only so much we can tell you about scotch though, so go out and try some yourself! Scotch is the perfect addition to any party, get together, or quiet Friday night.
And the possibilities don’t even stop there. There are so many other types of whiskey as well. Bourbon, rye, Canadian whiskey, the list goes on. This might be the start of your lifelong passion for whiskey, but these are topics best left for another article.