The Story of: Single Malt Scotch
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There have been two distinct varieties of whisky made in Scotland since the invention of the continuous still in the 1820s and '30s. Single malt Whisky is made from malted barley in small, individual batches at a single distillery using the traditional pot still method. Grain whisky is made in much larger volumes from corn or wheat by using the continuous distillation process in tall, metal column stills. These two types of whisky create the three classifications of Scotch: single malt whisky, blended malt whisky, and blended whisky. Since we touched on blended malt and blended whisky last week, this week we will focus on single malt.
Single malt whisky is made of 100 percent malted barley distilled in a pot still at one distillery. Most single malts are labeled under the originating distillery’s name, but some are labeled under the names of independent merchants who purchase barrels from distilleries and then bottle them under their own name.
Many spirit authorities believe that the whiskies of Scotland, most notably the single malt variety, have the widest array of smells, tastes, and textures of any spirits category. This is true for two reasons. First, at this time in history, single malts are the finest grain distillates produced. Second, single malts most accurately reflect where they are from like no other type of distilled product, with the exception of grande champagne, petite champagne, and cognac.
The "Whisky Regions" where single malts are distilled were initially defined in the 1980s as Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, and Islay. They were then refined in the 1990s to several more regions. A better way to look at single malts is as inland whisky or as maritime whisky. Inland whiskies include the areas of Speyside, Northern Highlands, Central Highlands, Lowlands, and Western Highlands. These tend to have floral, oaky, grainy, and slightly smoky qualities. Maritime whiskies include the areas of Islay, Orkney Islands, Isles of Skye, Mull, Arran, Campbeltown, or seaside locations. These whiskies tend to have flavors of salt and brine in varying degrees, reflecting the close proximity to the sea. This singularity and authenticity is what makes the single malts of Scotland so distinctive.
— Sara Kay, The Spir.it
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