The first recorded mention of Scotch whisky was back in 1494, when it was originally distilled by the monks for medicinal purposes, and by farmers looking to generate an extra income in the winter. Since then Scotch has grown from a cottage industry to a multi-billion dollar global empire. There are now thousands of bottles on the market and the scotch industry shows no signs of slowing.
Scotch whisky has always been a recognized symbol of sophistication, and demand from emerging markets such as Singapore and China has put strain on Scotch whisky stocks. In the US and UK the craft beer and spirits boom has also led to more interest in products such as Scotch, Bourbon & Rye.
There are currently 115 licensed distilleries in Scotland, providing employment for around 40,000 people across the UK. The Scotch industry in 2015 generated $5.53 billion dollars to the UK balance of trade, and around 38 bottles of whisky are exported every second. There are currently around 20 million barrels of whisky maturing in Scotland, which is approximately four times higher than the total population count.
‘Scotch Whisky’ is whisky which has been produced in Scotland from grains, water and yeast. There are five legally defined types of Scotch Whisky according to the Scotch Whisky Association:
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery using 100% barley in the mash bill.
- Single Grain Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery using a variety of grains in the mash bill including, barley, wheat and corn.
- Blended Scotch Whisky: A blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies .
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: A blend of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: A blend of Single Grain Scotch Whiskies which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Although blended whisky contributes up to 95% of whisky sales worldwide, the spotlight definitely shines brighter on Single Malt Scotch. Often seen as a luxury item across the global market, the demand for single malt scotch remains high with connoisseurs. In Scotland there are six defined whisky producing regions. Together they account for a quarter of food & drink exports to over two hundred countries worldwide.
- Lowlands: These whiskies are great for newcomers to scotch. Known to be mellower and fruity, Often a lighter color with a dry finish. Many lowland whiskies are used in blending and are typically un-peated.
- Campbeltown: Once a booming whisking region with over thirty-four distilleries, only three remain. The typical style is full bodied, peated with a hint of salty brine.
- Islay: Islay whiskies are known for being big and bold. Lots of smoke and salty notes. These whiskies tend to be dryer and can be an acquired taste.
- Highland & Islands: This is the largest region and has greatest variations, tends to be medium bodied with a slight peatiness and spiciness on the finish. Island and coastal distilleries know to have a whiff of saltiness, they can be both peated and un-peated, but are generally not as peated as the whiskies from Islay.
- Speyside: These malts tend to be the most popular style of Scotch, generally sweeter in style and heavily sherried. Over half of Scotland’s distilleries are located in Speyside.
The whole process must take place in Scotland, including a minimum maturation period of 3 years in oak casks (not exceeding 700 liters). Most Scotch whisky however will mature for at least ten years before being bottled. As per labeling laws the age statement on a bottle of Scotch refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle. These guidelines are in place to help current Scotch distillers remain true to the traditional method and to protect Scotch whisky globally.