FAQs

There are many aspects of Scotch Whisky distilling and blending that are not generally understood. In addition to the below, the Scotch Whisky Association has produced a handy reference book to provide answers to the many questions which frequently arise.

  • What is Scotch Whisky?

    Scotch Whisky is a distilled spirit made in Scotland from cereals, water and yeast.

    The current UK legislation relating specifically to Scotch Whisky is The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. The Regulations govern the production, labelling, and presentation of Scotch Whisky.

  • What is the origin of the name 'whisky'?

    The term 'whisky' comes from the Gaelic 'uisge beatha', or 'usquebaugh', meaning 'water of life'. Gaelic is that branch of Celtic traditionally spoken in the Highlands of Scotland.

  • Which spelling is correct, whisky or whiskey?

    Most dictionaries give both spellings. The Oxford English Dictionary points out that 'in modern trade usage, Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey are thus distinguished in spelling'. American-made whiskey is usually spelt with an 'e', while Canadian and Japanese whisky do not.

  • What are the different categories of Scotch Whisky?

    In line with traditional practice, The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 define five categories of Scotch Whisky:

    • Single Malt Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery.
    • Single Grain Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery.
    • 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.

  • What is a single whisky?

    It is the product of a single distillery. Some distilleries produce Scotch Whisky primarily for blending, but many retain some of their production for sale as single whiskies.

  • What is blending? What is its purpose?

    Blending whisky is a considerable art acquired only after years of experience. A blend will consist of anything from 15 to 50 different single whiskies, combined in the proportions of a formula that is the secret of the blending company concerned.

    The aim of the blender is to produce a whisky of a definite and recognisable character. It is of the greatest importance that the blend should never vary from this standard, which customers all over the world will have come to expect.

  • Why do whiskies produced in different distilleries vary in flavour?

    While some believe water to be a decisive factor, adjoining distilleries which draw their water from similar sources are known to produce whiskies that are quite dissimilar in flavour. The size and shape of the stills are important, as are the skill and experience of the men who manage them. It is the objective of the distiller to produce a whisky whose flavour and character remain consistent at all times and in all circumstances. This is the true art of distilling, acquired only after many years and often handed down from one generation to the next.

  • Some Scotch Whisky has a smoky flavour. What causes this?

    The smoky flavour of certain Scotch Whiskies originates from the peat fire over which the green malt is dried, prior to grinding and mashing.

  • What is meant by the term 'finishing'?

    Scotch Whisky must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years, and is often matured much longer. 'Finishing' is an extension of the maturation process, when the spirit is subsequently filled into empty casks that previously held other
    wines or spirits for a further relatively short period at the end of maturation.

    The cask used for finishing must have been drained of any liquid prior to its use and any change in the spirit will therefore result from its interaction over time with the wood of the cask.

  • How should Scotch Whisky be drunk?

    This depends entirely on your individual taste and on the occasion. Scotch Whisky is a versatile drink, superb in its own right, or as a long mixed drink. Served on its own, or with a little water, it can also be a refreshing drink with ice and a mixer. Scotch Whisky presents a whole range of flavours which can be extended by the addition of soda or mineral water, lemonade, ginger ale, or mixed as part of a cocktail.

    Blended Scotch Whisky is appreciated as a drink which can be served during a meal in place of wines, while Single Malt Scotch Whisky is popular as an after dinner drink.

  • How old should the best Scotch Whisky be?

    It is not possible to lay down any precise age as being the best for a particular whisky. Generally speaking, Malt Whiskies require longer to mature fully than Grain Whiskies. UK and EU law insist that Scotch Whisky should be at least three years old. However, it is the practice of the trade to mature for substantially longer than the legal minimum.

  • What is the alcoholic strength of Scotch Whisky?

    When distilled it is usually reduced for filling into casks at a strength of 63.5% of alcohol by volume. By law the minimum bottling strength is 40% alcohol by volume.
    In export markets some Scotch Whisky is sold at 43%.

  • How many calories are there in a standard measure of Scotch Whisky?

    A standard measure of Scotch Whisky (25ml) contains 55 calories.

    Scotch contains no fat and no added carbohydrates (although there may be a very small carbohydrate level depending on the type of cask used and length of maturation).

  • Is it injurious to drink whisky with oysters or other shellfish?

    No. This is an ancient superstition for which there is no foundation. A personal experiment will furnish the proof.

  • How should I store my Scotch Whisky?

    Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle. So even if you keep a 12 year old bottle for 100 years, it will always remain a 12 year old whisky. As long as the bottle is kept out of direct sunlight, the Scotch Whisky will neither improve nor deteriorate, even if it is opened. Whisky that is stored at very low temperatures can become cloudy, but the cloudiness should disappear when the whisky is returned to room temperature.

  • How many brands of Scotch Whisky are there?

    Several thousand brands of Scotch Whisky are sold all over the world.

  • How does consumption of Scotch Whisky in Scotland compare with that in the rest of Britain?

    Customs and Excise monthly figures of releases from bond give no guide as to the amount of whisky consumed in Scotland itself, but trade sources report that between 15% and 20% of Scotch Whisky sold in Britain is consumed in Scotland.

  • Is there a collectors' market for Scotch?

    Renowned for its quality, and with a wonderful range of whiskies available, it is not surprising that some people have become collectors of bottles of Scotch Whiskies.

    The SWA is not in a position to offer advice on the value, purchase or sale of a particular Scotch Whisky. However, two of the best known firms conducting auctions of unusual bottles and other artefacts are Bonhams (0131 225 2266) or McTears (0141 810 2880).