How to Read a Scotch Whiskey Label

Learn how to read scotch whiskey labels from the experts at NYC's Rye House in this Howcast video.

Reading the label on a bottle of scotch is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is look on there and it will tell you a few things to look out for, straight off the bat. You know, whether it’s blended or single malt and then how long it’s been in barrels.

Generally any scotch will take the time to put an age statement on the bottle. You know, 14 years and then matured in rum casts. You know, you can get a kind of an idea of what you’re going to expect from the whiskey before you even try it.

A lot of scotch is matured in used bourbon barrels because, legally, you can’t reuse bourbon barrels after their first use. So a lot of Scots will buy up used bourbon barrels from the Americans and use that to age their whiskeys. In the past they were done in port and sherry casts. You know, which has led to an evolution of flavoring in your scotch whiskeys over the years.

So, you know, whether it’s single or blended malts. How many years it’s been barrel aged and what kind of barrel it’s aged in are the major things you’re looking for when you’re reading a scotch label.

So when you see blended you know that the different malts that went into your whiskey are going to be the primary factor in how it tastes. And blended scotchs, you know, they tend to taste distinct, depending on the blender. Whereas, you know, individual single malts are going to taste more like the Terrawa, like the character of the surrounding countryside and the method of production.

Some producers are taking new and interesting tacts in terms of how they’re ensuring that their whiskeys, after being in bourbon barrels they go into sherry barrels. They go into old, used French wine barrels or Caribbean rum casts. You’ll get different flavor notes from each of them and you’ll get a little bit of the hint of the liquor that was in there before. Whereas, you know, lighter and easier blended, they’re put together for a different reason. To have different taste profile.

So that’s quick and dirty run down of what you need to know when you’re reading a scotch label.