The Best Scotch For Beginners
What is the best scotches for beginners? Scotch is quite an acquired taste, but once you get used to it, it will probably become one of your favorites. Sitting with a glass of scotch neat (pure scotch with just a few drops of water, to reveal the flavors) or a glass of scotch “on the rocks” (with a few ice cubes) will certainly make you feel like a true gentleman.
If you are starting to dapple in the world of Scotch, I’ll give you a few pointers about selecting the best scotch for beginners.
What’s the difference between Scotch and Whisky?
Mainly it’s geographical. Scotch is a type of whisky made in Scotland, while bourbon is a type of whisky made in America, generally in Kentucky. Scotch is made from malted barley and bourbon is distilled from corn.
If you’re in an English pub and you ask for a whisky, you will get scotch. If you’re in Ireland, you will get an Irish whiskey. No, I didn’t spell it wrong, that’s the Irish stamp on the drink.
Drinking scotch is usually associated with the elite upper class because a good scotch is quite pricey. But if you are looking for the best scotch for beginners I’ll give you a few options to choose from. The reason why it’s so pricey, is because of its long maturation process. The minimum maturing period, is three years. Plus lots of the time it’s imported, making it more sought-after.
Don’t be intimidated by all the subtle complexities and taste intricacies that you’re supposed to taste with your first sip of scotch. The trick is to drink it regularly to get used to the taste, so that you can distinguish between quality and cheap rip-offs.
Different Types of Scotch
There are a few tricks you can employ to find the best scotch for beginners and to not sound like an uninformed wannabe scotch lover when you comment on the taste. But firstly I’ll tell you about the different types of scotches you can choose from.
Tip: if you want to sound all fancy when ordering a scotch, ask for a dram. It used to be a measurement term, about a teaspoon or one eight of a fluid ounce. But nowadays it’s a popular way of ordering a glass of scotch.
Blended Scotch Whisky
Blends usually consist of two thirds grain whisky combined with one third malt whisky. These usually come from various Scottish distilleries. As an entry level option, a blend is the best scotch for beginners. The manufacturing process creates a medley of flavors, appealing to a wide variety of taste buds.
It can be described as smooth, inviting, plus somewhat less potent, easier on your palate and wallet. It is quite an art form to find exceptional single malts and combine them into a decadent end product.
Grain Scotch Whisky
Not such a popular type amongst the sophisticated scotch drinkers. It’s made from a variety of cereal grains such as mashed wheat, barley and maize. The barley’s malted and un-malted variations are fermented to craft the scotch.
The distillation process is easy and inexpensive. Sometimes they are used to produce a pure scotch whisky, but usually they’re incorporated into a blend.
Malt Scotch Whisky
This is the scotch type that Scotland is famous for. A malt scotch has to be produced by exclusively using mashed malted barley grain, aged in oak barrels for three years or more and it has to be bottled and exported from a single distillery in Scotland. Single malts are the most sought-after, they have to undergo a series of strict regulations to earn the coveted stamp of approval.
Although this type of whisky is less popular, it is more sought-after because you are getting precisely what you pay for – a pure scotch. This might not be the best scotch for beginners’ option, but once you’ve acquired the taste of a good scotch, you will be able to appreciate the extravagance of purchasing an expensive scotch and enjoying the lavish taste.
A single malt scotch offers a much more diverse and complex taste experience. Distillers can manipulate the recipe to accentuate distinctive flavors. This is where it becomes more challenging to put your finger on exactly what you are tasting. To the uninformed pallet, it might taste uniform, but a practiced pallet will be able to pick up the subtleties that the distiller had in mind.
If you are serious about learning more about scotch tasting, you could join the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They have various branches in the USA, as well as other countries worldwide. At a special tasting event an expert will provide you guidance when tasting a scotch.
How do you properly taste a scotch?
Step 1: Select the right glass
You might think a glass is a glass, right? Wrong. The main reason why you need the right type of glass, is to make sure your scotch is aired properly. The best nosing glasses are a Glencairn or Copita. They have the ability to trap in and release the scents. But as long as you use a whisky glass, you will be able to enjoy your scotch.
Step 2: Add a little bit of water or ice
This tasting technique mellows out the burning after taste and makes the nosing less intense. It allows you to gain a good idea of the individual scent and taste notes. You should add a teaspoon of water or a single ice cube. Adding more will damage the flavor and scent. Adding less will leave you with an unpleasant burning sensation.
Step 2: The Nosing
Before taking your first sip, use your nose to truly experience the scotch. Place your nose into the opening of the glass. Yes, stick it right in! Don’t just sniff the air above the glass, try to get your nose as close as possible to the liquid.
Remember that you can’t really be wrong in guessing what you are smelling, each person will experience something different. Often the bottle label will give you a few hints of the smells and tastes you might pick up on.
Step 3: The Sampling
Let the liquid sit in your mouth for a moment before you swish it around, almost like mouthwash. By doing this you well let the liquid touch all your taste bud zones. You will experience some flavors while the scotch is in your mouth, others as you swallow. And more will arise as an aftertaste.
Choose Your Scotch by Region
The specific geographical Scottish area where a scotch is created will influence the flavor profiles. The following are a few noteworthy regions that you should know about to make an informed decision when selecting the best scotch for beginners. You might recognize some of the distillery names.
Highland: this is the most extensive of all the scotch regions. No two scotches are the same, due to the vastness of this area. Yet they are usually known for being full-bodied, with non-intoxicating hints of smokiness and peat.
Famous distilleries: Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie and Glengoyne.
Lowland: this Scottish area, located in the far South plains, is known for its light-bodied and floral scotches. Lovers of these scotches enjoy the mellowness and mild mannered flavor profiles, the delicate taste.
Famous distilleries: Bladnoch, Auchentoshan, and Glenkinchie.
Islay: a scotch from this area is known for its intensity and smokiness. Some think the high winds and exposure to the sea influence the potent flavor. Scotches for this area are quite intense, best left to the pallet that has become well-accustomed to the acquired taste of scotch.
Famous distilleries: Laphroaig, Bowmore, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.
Handy info: if you feel a bit clueless when someone talks about the smokiness of a sip of scotch, not to worry, someone has taken the time to create a flavor map for you to sound like an expert when describing a bottle of scotch.
Campbeltown: although a small area, it used to be the Scottish whisky capital. The scotches distilled here are typically renowned for their sui generis salty and briny profiles.
Famous distilleries: Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.
Speyside: Speyside has now claimed the position of most exceptional scotch producing region. It is home to almost half of all of Scotland’s distilleries. The Spey River stretches and cuts through the region, providing an endless stream of fresh water to the distilleries who pride themselves in using fresh water in their production processes. The scotches from this area are considered the most extravagant and are renowned for their sweetness and elegance.
Famous distilleries: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan. Blended distilleries include Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal, two of the best scotches for beginners.
Best Cheap Scotches for beginners
And finally a list of scotches you can consider when you start your scotch tasting journey:
Glenlivet 12 year
Glenmorangie 10 year
Chivas Regal 12 year
Johnnie Walkers: Black Label 12 year
Glenmorangie 10 year old
Glenlivet 12 year old
Chivas Regal 12 year old
Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old
Johnnie Walker Black Label
What Do You Think – What is the best scotch for beginners?
There are a few nice scotch options out there and there certainly are a bunch of people who have their favorite scotch, which they firmly believe is the best scotch available. But of course we all have different tastes. And as I noted, a beginner might not like the more sophisticated scotch options as much as an experienced scotch drinker that has developed a taste for the scotch. But if you have some thoughts on which scotch you think is the best scotch for beginners, I would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.