What Is Scotch Whiskey?

Learn about scotch whiskey from the experts at NYC's Rye House in this Howcast video.

Scotch whiskey is a very wide wonderful world with a lot of subtlety and interesting things going on in there. You have a wide variety of scotches whether they’re blended or single malts. Some things are a little softer. Some things are really peaty. And then some things are really, really peaty or lend themselves to a little bit more honey and heather. You’ll get notes of sea air, flowers on the hillside. It’s a very complex and wonderful liquor.

Anything that is that refined tends to be a bit pricier. You’re going to be hard pressed to find inexpensive scotch that you really want to drink – unlike something like bourbon where you can get very drinkable liquor at a very low price point. Scotch is going to cost you. But once you develop a taste for it most people don’t go back. I myself have turned into a scotch drinker as of late because I’m a generally insufferable human being, so if there’s something else to be pretentious about we’ll find it.

Some bigger notes of smoke come from the traditional peat drying process. Because scotch is a malt whiskey which means it’s made primarily from barley. Once you germinate the seeds, once you soak them and malt the barley seeds, you need to dry them out. You want to do it quicker than not before rots sets in. Generally you’ll dry them over a fire. Scotland being, well, Scotland, and heavily boggy, you get a lot of peat which they use as fuel. So you get peat moss. They’ll start a fire with that after it’s been dried out and use that to dry out the barley. You get very distinctive smoky notes.

It’s a really wide and rich style, and scotch making is an interesting tradition. When a lot of people think whiskey they think Scots. They think Scotsmen. They think rainy moors on a Thursday afternoon. Scotch has a rich history of being, at one point, the most popular liquor in the world, because where the British empire went it took scotch with it if you were wealthy enough to not drink rum.

And that’s a quick summary of scotch whiskey.