Thursday, November 29, 2012

Know Your Whiskey: The Difference Between Scotch and Bourbon

Both Scotch and Bourbon, two of the most popular distilled achololic beverage in the world, are merely different types of whiskey.  As whiskey is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide, both Scotch and Bourbon share unifying characteristics, such as the fermentation of grains, dstillation, and aging in wooden barrels. 

So what's the difference between Scotch and Bourbon, you may ask.  In other words, what makes Scotch Scotch and Bourbon Bourbon.  In this article, I will explain to you the major differences in a simple, easy to understand, format.

1) Location
The most obvious difference between the two acholol is the geographic location in which they are distilled.  Scotch is distilled in Scotland, while Bourbon is distilled in America, more specifically, in the state of Kentucky. 

2) Spelling
Scotch is spelled "whisky", and Bourbon is spelled "whiskey".  They are really two slightly differently spelt words for the same thing. 

Here’s a quick way to remember how some of the world’s biggest producers spell their products:
  • Countries that have E’s in their names (UnitEd StatEs and IrEland) tend to spell it whiskEy (plural whiskeys)
  • Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky (plural whiskies)
3) Distilling
Scotch whisky is made from whole barley and water, and are aged in oak casks for no less than three years.  Scotch is then bottled at no less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).

Bourbon, on the other hand, may be distilled from corn, rye, or barley grains, or a two-thirds corn and other grain mixture.  It is then aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years.  By law, the barrels cannot be reused, and are discarded or reused by Scotch producers.  Bourbon is then bottled at no more than 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof).
4) Flavor
Scotch tends to take on a smokey flavor, due to the peat-smoked oat casks during distillation.  Bourbon, on the other hand, tends to be sweeter, due to the corn grains used.  If Bourbon is distilled with rye grains instead of corn, they tend to be more dry and not as sweet.

This about sums up the major differences between Scotch and Bourbon.  Bottoms-up, my friend, and stay classy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to store Scotch

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are storing your scotch, unopened or not.  Three are three main elements you want to minimize contact to in order to prolong the longevity of your precious Scotch: light, air and heat

How does light affect Scotch?  Scotch is generally stored in lighter colored bottles, usually clear, to show of its amazing radiant color.  Similar to beer, light damages the quality of scotch and can speed up the deterioration of the drink.  If you have bottles that are clear, consider storing them in their boxes, or at the very least at the back of the cabinet where light permeates the least.

How does air affect Scotch?  Coming in constant contact with air can result in oxidation, which can affect the flavor and texture.  Close the bottle cap tightly after pouring a drink, and try to finish the bottle as fast as possible. 

How does heat affect Scotch?  A higher temperature will result in faster evaporation if the seal of the cork is not 100%.  Unlike wine, Scotch does not mature in the bottle, so there's really not an "ideal temperature" to store it.  Keep scotch away from direct sources of heat, and consider storing bottles in a cool place where temperature fluctuations are kept to a minimum.  There are no hard and fast rules about how fast you should consume scotch after the bottle has been opened. A year seems like a good general guideline, but if stored properly, scotch will keep much longer than that.

Keep it classy, my friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Best Glass To Drink Scotch From

For quite some time, I used to drink my scotch from a regular tumbler.  Perhaps I was under the impression that there's little differences in drinking from different glasses, or maybe I had the notion that drinking from a fancy glass come across as snobbish.  I honestly can't remember. 

However, as my interest in scotch grew, so did my curiosity in drinking from something other than a glass tumbler.  I did my research, tried out numerous glasses, and talked to several scotch enthusiast.  All the arrows seemed to point towards one glass: the Glencairn Glass.

What is the Glencairn Glass, you ask?  Well, the glass is developed by a company in Scotland called Glencairn Crystal.  It measures approximately 115 mm in height, and is made mostly of lead-free crystal.  Launched in 2002, the glass is tapered for to concentrate aromas to enhance the nosing experience.  The tapered mouth also allows ease of drinking.  The wide bowl shows off the scotch's color as well as encouraging evapoation through its surface area and contact with your hand, while the base is designed to be easy for the user to hold on to the drink. 

The popularity and recognition of the quality of the glass is apparent.  The Glencairn Glass is the first style of glass to be endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association.  They also won the prestigious Queen's Award for Innovation.  Perhaps the biggest recognition of them all is that the Glencairn Glass is used by every single whisky company in Scotland and Ireland. 


The glass is not expensive; I bought a few online at approximately $7 a piece from Amazon.  At that price, if you are a true scotch lover, you owe it to yourself to at the very least give the glass a try to see whether you like it.  I know I do. 

Keep it classy, my friends. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Substitues for Scotch?


A common confusion among people I talk to is the understanding of the difference between scotch and scotch whiskey.  Essentially, both terms refer to the same thing.  Scotch is basically one of the several sub-set under the whiskey family.  There are, however, some distinctive characteristics that differentiate scotch from the rest of the whiskey.  First and foremost, scotch whiskey is only made in Scotland.  If the whiskey is not distilled in Scotland, it is not a scotch.  Second, it is a requirement that scotch is distilled and aged for at least three years, even if many scotch brands are aged upwards of 10 years or more.  There are numerous types of scotch whiskey: malt, grain, blended, single-malt, Highlands and Lowlands scotch.
While this is fundamentally a scotch blog, there are certainly other fine liquors that we can consider as a substitute in the unfortunate event that no scotch whiskey is available.  Here are some of the other sub-sets under the whiskey family that may be suitable:
Bourbon Whiskey:
Maker's Mark, a personal favorite bourbon whiskey
Also known as Kentucky whiskey, bourbon is a corn whiskey made primarily in, no prizes here, Kentucky.  While bourbon lacks the distinctive smoky flavor commonly present in scotch, it is still a dependable substitute. 
Irish Whiskey:

Irish whiskey is similar to Scotch whiskey, and is made from barley, corn, rye, wheat or oats.  Additionally, Irish whiskies are distilled three times, and aged a minimum of four years, which gives them a rather similar flavor profile to Scotch.

Rye Whiskey:

Rye whiskey is an American whiskey made from a minimum of 51% rye.  It is similar to bourbon, but not aged as long.  The lack of maturity of this particular whiskey can lends it a harsher flavor compared to scotch. 

Canadian Whiskey:

Canadian whiskey is a blend of rye, wheat, corn and barley.  It is generally considered smoother than the American-made whiskeys, as it is aged for a minimum of three years, but usually mor ethan six years.

That wraps it up for us on the various substitutes that you can consider for scotch.  Bottoms-up, my friends.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Scotch: Do You Decant?

Whenever I see a character pouring himself a glass of whisky in a movie, it's almost always from a decanter instead of a bottle for some reason.  Part of the reason, I assumed, could be due to need to avoide the appearance of product placement.  But it got me wondering: are there any benefits (beyond looking awesome!) to decanting scotch?

The decanter was originally created to store wine, in particular, red wine.  When you decant wine, you are attempting two things: 1) separating the sediment from the wine, and 2) you are allowing the wine to breathe. 

Over time, as wine stores in its original bottle, the sediment in the wine will separate and settle at the base of the bottle.  When you transfer the wine to the decanter, you are leaving most of that sediment behind in the bottle. 

When you are transferring the wine to the decanter, you are actually allowing the wine to "breathe".  What this simply means is that when the wine's surface area comes in contact with air, it releases some of the wine's armoas that were trapped in the bottle.  The more surface area of the wine that comes in contact with air, the better.  The ideal "breathing" time ranges from 1 - 8 hours. 

Now that we know the original purposes of decanters with wine, does the same thing apply to scotch?  The verdict is out on this one, but personally I don't believe so.   There's hardly any sediments in scotch that require to be separated.  And even though letting the scotch "breathe" can help with the appreciation of it, the reality is that you will not likely finish a decanter of scotch within eight hours.  Any longer than that risk excessive evaporation of the alcohol in the scotch, which we obviously do not want. 
My personal opinion is that storing of scotch inside a decanter is mostly for looks.  Not that there's anything wrong with it, but let's not confuse the benefits of decanting wine versus scotch. 

Here's an interesting nugget of information: in November 2010, the world's most expensive scotch was sold.  The Macallan 64 Year Old In Lallique was sold for $460,000 at an auction at Sotheby's.  The scotch was held in a special decanter designed and created by famed French designer (Lallique), and is crafted with a unique "cire perdue", or "lost wax" method. 

Macallan 64 Year Old in Lallique
If the idea of decanting your alcohol interests you, do check out this classy decanter by Bormioli Rocco:


Stay classy, my friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gifts for the Scotch Lover

With Christmas a mere couple of months away, it is not too early to start thinking what gift you want to get for the scotch lovers in your family.  With the many different options to choose from, you may be overwhelmed with the choices and become afraid to pick the "wrong gift".  Well, fret no more!  Here is a list of the top 5 holiday gifts for the scotch lover of your life. 

1) Whisky stones
 As previously discussed here, whisky stones are a great way to chill your scotch without the risk of diluting the drink.  These stones are simply cubes of flavorless, odorless, non-porous soapstone that can chill your liquor without diluting it or affecting its taste. 

These soapstone retains its temperature longer than ice, thus providing a more lasting chill.  What I especially like is that even though the chill from the whisky stones last longer, they do not chill your scotch so harshly that it becomes so cold that the flavor profile of the drink is sacrificed. 

The stones are softer than granite, and are not supposed to scratch your beloved tumbler, or your teeth when you are drinking, for that matter!

Whisky stones are sold by a company called Terforma.  They are available for purchase at Amazon by clicking here.  Prices are fair too, retailing for under $20 for a set of nine stones. 

2) Scotland Distilleries Map
If the scotch lover of your life is planning a pilgrimage to Scotland to visit the distilleries, or that he's simply interested in finding out where his favorite distillery is located, or maybe he's looking for a nice distillery map to frame up and hang on his bar room wall, then you should consider getting him this gift. 

 My favorite map is "The Malt Whisky Map of Scotland".  It is a full-color relief map of Scotland's whisky landscape with regional tasting notes, distillery profiles and an index of lost distilleries.   

3) The Glencairn Glass

This award-winning Glenacrin Glass is by far the best glass from which to drink scotch from.  The glass itself is very sturdy, and the tapering mouth concentrates aromas excellently and allows for ease of drinking not associated with traditional nosing glasses.  Its wide bowl allows for the fullest appreciation of the whisky's color, and the solid base is designed to be easy on the hand.
You can purchase the glass from Amazon by clicking here.  The average price appears to be approximately $12 - $13. 

The Glencarin site itself is very slick, and has a nice 30 second animated sequence on how to appreciate whisky.  You should check it out!

4) Decanter
Even though I personally don't use a decanter to store or serve my scotch, few can deny that a well-made, exquisite decanter can be very impressive to serve from when having a party or just entertaining a few guests.  It simply oozes class and sophistication, qualities which scotch embodies.  As an extra personal touch, you can consider an option to personalize your decanter with an engravement on the glass.

When shopping for a decanter, look for a great quality manufacturer who is using high-quality materials.  Shape doesn't really matter, it comes down to individual preferences.

5) Michael Jackson's Books
No, not the singer.  Michael Jackson is the world's bestselling writer on the subjects of whisky and beer, and is the most respected scotch writer in the business.  His book: "Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide ", is considered a must read for any scotch enthusiast. 

What is the local climate and geography of the distillery? What the kind of grain is used, and how is it prepared for fermenting? What is the shape of the still? What kind of oak is used for the cask, and how long is the whiskey aged? Jackson's collection of essays and photographs will teach newbies how to answer all of these questions, but it will gratify the most obsessive enthusiasts as well. Every step of the process gets its own explanation, and there are even essays on food pairings and cocktail recipes.

6) Whisky Flask
This one should need no explanation.  For the scotch lovers constantly on the go!  Click here to check out the selection.

7) Scotch-Theme Coasters

Every glass of scotch need a coaster to set down on so that the glass won't mar the furniture.  There are tons of designs out there catering to all the different preferences. 

This is it!  I hope that this list helps you get through your holiday shopping without breaking a sweat.  And if you are are scotch drinker and want to drop some hints your family members or friends, just send them the link to this page and cross your fingers!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hosting a Scotch Tasting Party

One of the things I think I would really enjoy doing is hosting a scotch tasting party.  Where I'm from, there are the occasional wine-tasting parties that bring like-minded individuals with similar passion together for an evening of indulgence.  Such an event not only creates a form of camaraderie with other enthusiast, it can also help to further develop and broaden your knowledge on the alcohol. 

A scotch tasting event combines sophisication and relation, the very traits which the drink itself represents.  It is a toast to civilization. 

When throwing a scotch tasting event, it is important to know your audience: are they novices or experts?  Cater to them and serve scotch that will capture their interest.  For instance, for beginners, consider something that is higher on drinkability, with a wider range of taste profiles, which will allow them to experiment and discover what type of scotch they like.  For the more seasoned scotch drinkers, it would be better to narrow the choices and focus on a more specific region (e.g. Islay) or taste. 

Unlike wine, scotch tastings should be limited to no more than 4 - 6 choices.  Why?  Firstly, scotch is alot stronger than wine proportionally.  You wouldn't want your guests to be passed out drunk at the end of the session.  In addition, the palate can become overwhelmed due to the strength of the scotch itself.

Another consideration to have when hosting a scotch tasting is what type of glass to use.  In my previous post, I explained the differences between the glasses most commonly used.  Although it is certainly fine to use any glass for personal enjoyment, it is more appropriate to use a "nosing glass" in a scotch-tasting event.  The tulip-shaped glass can help guests to better identify and appreciate the flavors and aromas of the scotch, and it adds another touch of sophisication to the party. 

Next, and quite importantly, is what scotches to offer?  Most hosts of scotch tastings stick with single malts, as they tend to have a more distinct and unique character, taste and smell.  These differences are more muddled in a blended scotch.  As to which sinle malt scotch to use, well, this goes back to the earlier passage on what your audience is.  Serve accordingly to what the majority prefers.  You can either serve one from each of the five scotch regions, or you can focus on a particular region and sample several scotches from different distillery. 

In addition to the scotch and the glasses, a pitcher of filtered water should also be available.  Most experts agree that adding a few drops of water can really bring out the flavors and aromas in the scotch.  Ice, however, is not neccessary, as true scotch enthusiast will never consider adding ice to their alcohol. 

Finally, a pad of paper and pen should be provided to each taster for making notes on what they did and not like about each bottle.  Consider handing out pre-printed sheets with areas to write in the label of the bottle, general thoughts, and taste categories (age, body, color, palette, smell and finish). 

Many hosts also have food available at the tasting, being careful not to choose food that will clash with the Scotch. Some suggestions are sharp or mild cheeses, unflavored crackers, dark chocolate, and various fruits.

The nice thing about scotch tastings is that you can try out very expensive bottles that you normally would not buy.  Also, if you live in a big enough city, you can invite one of the main scotch companies to bring one of their reps or ambassadors to host the tasting for you.  This way, you can get a specialist present to provide background information and answer any questions. 

I hope this post will encourage readers to consider trying out and attend a local scotch tasting party.  Who knows, you may just discover a bottle of scotch you like that you would have never come across by yourself.  Till the next time, you keep it classy SimplyScotches readers. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Climbing the Scotch Ladder for Beginners

I have a friend, let's call him Pete.  Pete, like most people, occasionally drink blends like Johnnie Walker Black, and mostly on the rocks.  On one occasion at a bar, perhaps somewhat intrigued by my scotch obsession, he decided to try a single malt.  Unfortunately, he ordered from the bar-tender a dram of Laphroaig (very strong and smoky).  All it took was one sip from the glass, and Pete began coughing violently and choking.  He later told me that he cannot believe people actually enjoys scotch.  Pete never touched another glass of scotch since then.  

Unfortunately, I suspect Pete's case is more the norm rather than the exception.  Too many people often start off with too advance, and are immediately put off by the pungent taste.  Starting with an Islay (as in Pete's case) is like drinking a Guinness if all you ever had was Bud Lite. 

To help beginners out there still discovering the wonders of scotch, I developed this simple "scotch ladder" guide.  Start off at the bottom rung, and move on to the next step when you feel comfortable with the level you are on now.  This way, it allows your taste buds to develop and adapt, and in the process appreciating, the various flavors of scotch, without them being too overpowering right from the start. 

Your journey starts here.

1. Start with a smooth, light scotch.  Focus is on drinkability.
Recommendations: Cragganmore 12 yr, Glenfiddich 12, Dalwinnie 15 yr
Value selection: Cragganmore 12 yr
Premium selection: Glenlivet 18 yr
Cragganmore 12 Yr

2. Next, introduce some complexity and richness. 
Recommendations: Macallan 12 yr, Glenfarclas 17 yr, Longmorn 15 yr
Value selection: Arbelour 12 yr
Premium selection: Dalmore 21
Macallan 12 Yr

3. Add some light smoke. 
Recommendations: Oban 14 yr, Highland Park 15 yr
Value selection: Glen Garioch 10
Premium selection: Royal Lochnagar 12 yr
Oban 14 Yr

4. Dial up the smokiness.
Recommendations: Highland Park 18 yr, Bruichladdich 10 yr
Value selection: Highland Park 12 yr
Premium selection: Springbank 15 yr
Highland Park 18 Yr

5. Enter the peat man.
Recommendations: Talisker 10 yr, Bowmore 12 yr, Talisker 18 yr
Value selection: Talisker 10 yr
Premium selection: Ledaig 20 yr
Talisker 10 Yr

6. Final stop: Islay
Recommendations: Lagavulin 16 yr, Laphroaig 10 yr, Ardbeg 10 yr
Value selection: Caol Ila 12 yr
Premium selection: Lagavulin 12 yr
Lagavulin 16 Yr

Friday, March 18, 2011

Distillery Map

From this earlier post, I explained how the flavor profile of a scotch, even though it can be quite unique at different distilleries, do have some common characteristics that separate them from scotch from other regions.  In this post, I will share with you a map that I came across showing the location of the various scotch distilleries/brands spread around Scotland:

Because Speyside is the region where the most distilleries are concentrated, here's a closer snapshot of the area:

If you desire a more interractive map, check out this site: 
Here, you can select from a list your favorite distillery, and the map will auto-zoom to where the distillery is located in Scotland.  Pretty neat!

Have a great weekend everyone!  May your glasses stay full of scotch and pockets full of money.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scotch Glasses

Most scotch aficianados agree that the indiviual pleasures of scotch appreciating were further enhanced by drinking from the right whisky glass. 

While I am personally not picky enough to insist on drinking from a specially designed whisky glass, I can appreciate the amount of work and thought put into creating the glass.  In this post, I will explore two of the most common type of glasses that people drink out from.

Whisky Tumbler:
One of the most common glass to drink scotch from is the whisky tumbler.  The whisky tumbler typically holds 8 to 10 ounces, and is the perfect glass to use if you are having your scotch with ice, or if you are adding a mixer such as coke or ginger ale (the horror!).  Of course, you can quite happily use the tumblers too if you are drinking your scotch neat, or with a bit of water. 

There isn't any inherently wrong with drinking from the tumbler, and do not let anyone make you feel bad for drinking from one.  Even though I find myself reaching for one quite often whenever I'm pouring myself a dram or two of scotch, the tumbler isn't really designed to facilitate the nosing and tasting of the aroma of the scotch, of which both elements are important to truly appreciate scotch. 

Tulip-shaped Glasses

The glass favored by most scotch aficianados is the tulip-shaped whisky glass.  These glasses come in two types: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's tasting glass, and the Gelncairn glass.  Although differing slightly from each other in shape, both glasses have a slightly bulbous base tapering up to a narrow top. 

The bottom half of the glass encourages evaportation through its larger surface area and the contact to the warmth of your hand.  The narrow top focuses the smell, concentrating the aroma of the scotch at your nose.  All this comes together to enhance the aroma and this most certainly can enhances the drinking experience.