As a ‘beginner’, selecting a good Scotch whisky can be a little overwhelming.
There are hundreds of brands and styles to choose from. And let’s face it, just pronouncing the names of some – such as Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Laphroaig – can be difficult enough. So, how on earth are you supposed to separate the tasty tipples from those with an acquired taste?
Here, our in-house connoisseurs offer a few tips to get you started.
1. Understand the whisky barrel
The flavour of a Scotch whisky is largely determined by the barrel in which it is aged. Barrels can be made from various different types of wood and this has a huge effect on the final taste.
For example, those made from European oak typically give the liquor a hint of dried fruit and spices. Whilst those crafted from American oak introduce sweet notes, such as vanilla and honey. The barrel may have also been seasoned with sherry or bourbon or charred to add to the spirit’s flavour.
Before buying a new bottle, it’s therefore worth checking the label. Most distilleries will include information about how the whisky was matured, giving you a good idea of the flavours to expect.
2. Know your singles from your blends
To choose a good Scotch whisky, you need to know the difference between a single malt, single grain, and blend. This has a notable impact on the final flavour and could affect which one you buy.
‘Single’ liquors are made in barrels at just one distillery. As such, they usually have a very distinctive taste, which reflects the unique style of that distillery. By contrast, blended varieties are created by mixing two or more whiskies from separate distilleries – making them smoother and more mellow.
The right option for you comes down to personal preference.
3. Research the different regions
You should also get to grips with the various Scotch whisky regions.
Again, this has a big effect on the liquor’s flavour and characteristics. Specific regions are renowned for specific palates and detailed information on the differences can be found in our previous blog ‘A beginner’s guide to Scotch whisky regions’. Be sure to take a look. Try a few different ones to see which is your favourite style and, before adding a bottle to your basket, always check where it was made.
4. The older the whisky, the better
It’s a well-known fact – the best Scotch whiskies are at least a decade old.
Scotch improves with age. Therefore, most distilleries tend to leave it in the barrel for at least three years. Over time, the alcohol content begins to evaporate, leaving behind a much more subtle taste. And the longer the spirit is left, the more time it has to absorb the delicious aromas and flavours.
Whiskies that don’t state their age can be anywhere between 3-9 years old and these can be very tasty. But if you’re looking for a truly delectable drink, the magic number is ‘10’ years or above.
5. Avoid ‘chill-filtered’ varieties
To improve its appearance, some distilleries choose to ‘chill-filter’ their liquor. Essentially, the whisky is cooled down, allowing some of the heavier oils to be removed and reducing any cloudiness. But these oils – absorbed from the barrel – are what give the spirit its depth of flavour. And removing them can have a hugely detrimental effect on its final taste. Therefore, to pick out a good Scotch whisky, we recommend checking the label to make sure it’s ‘non chill-filtered’ and natural.
Find your favourite Scotch whisky
If you’re new to this delightful beverage – and unsure on the best Scotch whisky for your palate – it’s all about trial and error. To discover your favourite, the best option is to try a few different brands and styles. And our luxury whisky tasting sets offer a convenient (and fun!) way to do that.
Each box comes with either three or five 30cl miniatures; just enough to sample the unique taste of each, without the expense of buying a full bottle. A selection of single malts and grains from various regions and distilleries are included. They also come with a series of tasting cards, so you can improve your knowledge and know exactly what you’re drinking and why you like it.