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Scotch whisky

Scotch whisky, often called simply Scotch, is a type of alcoholic beverage made in Scotland. (The Scotch and Canadian spirits are called "whisky"; the Irish and American ones "whiskey"). The main distinction in the flavour of Scotch is from the use of peat in the distilling process. Whisky has been produced in Scotland for a long time, sometimes illegally. The name is a transformation of the word usquebaugh, itself a transformation of the Scots Gaelic uisge beatha and Irish Gaelic uisce beatha, literally meaning the "water of life".

Scotland is divided into 4 regions and 2 sub-regions that produce whiskies with different regional characteristics:

Regional variants

These characteristics are described by words like smoky, peaty, seaweedy, etc.

There are two different distilling methods used to create Scotch whisky: grain distilling and malt distilling. These two processes are essentially similar, with malted barley used in malt distilling. Typically, the grain whisky is considered to be coarser than a fine malt whisky and therefore is used as part of blended whiskies. First some of the starch in the grain must be converted to sugar. This is done by malting, or for grain distilling, by mashing with water and adding an enzyme. Then yeast is added, to convert the sugar to alcohol. Finally the product is distilled to concentrate the alcohol and flavour. Scotch whisky is normally distilled twice to around 130 or 140 proof (65% or 75% Alcohol By Volume), then diluted with water to less than 100 proof (50% ABV) before bottling.

Once distilled, the product must be left to mature in old Sherry or Bourbon barrels. Bourbon production is a nearly inexhaustible generator of used barrels, due to a regulation requiring the use of new oak barrels. The aging process results in evaporation, so each year in cask is more loss of volume, making older whisky more expensive to produce. The distillate must age for at least 3 years to be called Scotch whisky, although most single (unblended) malts are offered at a minimum of 8 years of age. The older the whisky, the better the flavour, although they tend to level off after 25 years or so.

Colour is usually a good clue to the provenance and type of whisky. Old, sherried, whisky is usually very dark in colour - think Coca-Cola. Old, un-sherried, whisky is usually a golden-yellow/honey colour. Some whiskies can be almost clear, even after 10 years and more in wood. The late 1990s saw a trend towards fancy 'wood finishes' - reracking whisky from one barrel into another of a different type to add the 'finish' from the second to the maturation effects of the first. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling number 1.81 is known by some as "the green Glenfarclas": it was finished in a rum cask after 27 years in an oak (ex-Bourbon) barrel and is the colour of extra-virgin olive oil.

A Single Malt Scotch is an unblended Malt Whisky; it is taken from a single batch. A Blended Whisky, as mentioned above, usually combines grain and malt whiskies. This is cheaper and generally considered inferior. Theoretically a blend based on a very good malt might be better than a poor single malt—if there were such a thing on the market. (To quote Sean Connery: "Scotch, straight up. Any Single Malt will do.") Noted blended Scotch whiskies include Johnny Walker. Noted single malts include Highland Park, Bowmore, Glenmorangie, Lagavulin.

With the exceptions of whisky, Scotch broth[?] and other comestibles, a person or thing from Scotland is Scottish, not Scotch.

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