To be classed as “Scotch” whisky must be both distilled and matured in Scotland.
There is a good reason for this. Scotch whiskies derive part of their flavour from the air in the locations where they are stored during maturation.
For example some people swear that they can taste the sea from the strong, distinctively flavoured malt whisky from the Island of Islay.
In accordance with the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988, Scotch must be matured in oak barrels of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres.
The American Bourbon industry demands that barrels may be used only once so these are now sold on to Scotch whisky distillers. Spanish Sherry casks and Port casks are also used. All of these contribute distinctive flavours to the whisky.
Scotch Whisky is commonly sold in single malt, pure malt and blended versions. Malts are generally more expensive than the blends and are produced entirely from malted barley. It should be noted that the production of all types of Scotch Whisky does not allow for any additives or ‘enhancers’.
Only cereals (barley, wheat, maize etc) water and yeast may be used, although a small amount of caramel (burnt sugar) is permitted at the point of bottling – this ensures a consistent colour of the finished product.
By far the most popular worldwide, blended Scotch whisky accounts for the majority of the Scotch that is consumed. Blends are created from many different malt whiskies and grain whisky. Typically there would be about 80% grain and 20% malts in a blend with as many as 20 (but usually less than 15) different malts being used. Blended whiskies are popular because skilled master blenders can produce individual blends with consistent and distinctive characteristics. These are sometimes blended with particular markets in mind. For example at the end of the prohibition period in America (1933) some distillers created blends specifically for the re-emerging market there.
Single grain Scotch whisky is the product of a single distillery and made from unmalted barley, corn (maize) or wheat, water and barley. There are only a few single grain whiskies on sale to the general public and they are often hard to find. Almost all grain whisky goes into the blending process to create blended Scotch. The production process for grain whisky is continuous process and therefore production volumes are much higher than a typical malt distillery. This is reflected in the fact that there are only seven grain distilleries operating in Scotland at present and they can cope with the required volume.
Single malt Scotch whisky is so called because it consists strictly of malt whiskies from a single distillery. These must not contain any whiskies from other distilleries and it must be distilled in copper pot stills.
Single malts are produced in many areas of Scotland. Perhaps the best known (and the area with the highest concentration) is Speyside. Malt whiskies tend to be classified by there area of origin. There are five distinct areas, namely Speyside, Highland, Lowland Campbeltown and Islay, but it is not true to say that all whiskies from one area are the same, they may share certain characteristics, but no more than that.
It is worth noting that only about 10% of the today’s malt whisky is bottled. The rest goes into blends.
In malt whisky distilling only malted barley may be used. Distillers
may not use any other grains or fermentable products. Malt whiskies are produced
in pot stills. The pot stills used here at the Loch Lomond Distillery are quite
unusual. Four of these have rectifying heads and two have traditional “swan
This range of stills allows us to produce a total of eight different single highland
A single cask malt is one which is a bottling from a single cask. Since most of the American Bourbon casks that are used are 200 litres, and by the time the angels have taken their share, this means that not much more than 400 bottles will be available from each cask (depending on the age and type of cask used). The angel’s share is what evaporates during the maturation stage so it will be dependent on the time in storage.
While single cask malts are very exclusive their consistency cannot be controlled by mixing the malts from different cask so don’t always expect them to taste the same as other whiskies from the same distillery. Some of these “single, single” malts are also bottled at cask strength, with no water at all being added. This means that they often have 50% alcohol content or more, with some being as high as 60%. Most distillers would recommend that whisky be consumed at approximately 28 to 30%, typically 3 parts whisky to 2 parts water. This allows all of the flavours (some of which are dissolved in the alcohol) to be fully appreciated.
What was perviously termed Pure malt whisky or Vatted malt is a blend of malt whiskies from different distilleries, which must now be described as "Blended Malt". The term “Pure Malt” was coined to suggest exclusivity but it really just means that the bottle contains no grain whiskies. Clearly all Scotch malt whiskies are by definition pure malts or 100% Scotch malts. This is not to say that blended malts are inferior. Once again the masterblender can marry together a number of malts in various quantities to produce a distinctive whisky with its own character and traits.
Never heard of it? Having read the above do you think that it is a misnomer?
Well, here at the Loch Lomond Distillery we also produce the Loch Lomond Single Blend whisky.
This is a unique product, not found elsewhere. We are the only single distillery to produce both grain whiskies and a number of different malt whiskies on the same site, albeit that the stills are in different buildings.
This allows us to use the word “single” in relation to our Loch Lomond Single Blend.
Scotch Whisky has been defined in United Kingdom (UK) law since 1909 and recognised in European Community legislation since 1989. The current UK legislation relating specifically to Scotch Whisky is The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and the Orders made under it. which came into effect in June 1990 and superseded that part of the Finance Act 1969. as subsequently amended, defining Scotch Whisky.
For the purposes of The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 "Scotch Whisky'' means whisky
(a) which has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been
(i) processed at that distillery into a mash;
(ii) converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
(iii) fermented only by the addition of yeast;
(b) which has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 per cent so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
(c) which has been matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres, the period of that maturation being not less than 3 years;
(d) which retains the colour. aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation; and
(e) to which no substance other than water and spirit caramel has been added.
The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 prohibits inter alia the production in Scotland of whisky other than Scotch Whisky.
The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 and European Community (EC)
legislation both specify
a minimum alcoholic strength of 40 per cent by volume, which applies to all Scotch
Whisky bottled and/or put up for sale within or exported from the Community.