Much like Oktoberfest beer in Germany and Champagne in France, Scotch whisky is made, packaged, and labeled in a manner strictly regulated by local law. To be labeled as “Scotch whisky,” the product must be produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley. Then, it is aged for no less than three years in oak casks no larger than 185 gallons.
Aside from differentiating Scotch whisky from American whiskey by the spelling (American liquors are labeled as “whiskey”), American whiskey is generally made with a mix of grains (rather than straight barley) that does not get filtered off before going to the still.
When categorizing Scotch, two factors come into play: the number of distilleries involved and the variety of grains used in production. Simply put, “single” refers to whisky produced in one distillery, while “blended” denotes whiskies from multiple distilleries combined. “Malt” and “grain” signify the types of grains used in the process.
Single malt – produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery.
Single grain – produced from water and malted barley, but may also contain other malted or unmalted grains.
Blended malt – a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies produced in different distilleries.
Blended grain – a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies produced in different distilleries.
Blended – a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
3 – the number of years Scotch whisky must be aged
85 – Percentage of Scotland’s total food and drink exports made up of Scotch whisky
40-94.8 – Percentage of alcoholic content of Scotch whisky (80-190 proof)
98 – The number of active distilleries in Scotland today
1495 – First written mention of Scotch whisky