There are some things many whisky drinkers don't know but would never dare to ask out loud. These are 10 questions about Scotch that Google gets asked a lot.
Can Scotch go bad?
Whisky can age only in wooden casks. It stops ageing once it's bottled.
A closed bottle of whisky has an unreal shelf life – technically, it can last forever.
Even after a century, it is still drinkable.
Air is the only true evil to whisky; once the liquid is oxidized it is no longer immortal.
After opening, as long as you store your whisky in a cool, dry place, it can remain good for five years.
The snobs will tell you that once you have half a bottle left, it’s only got another one-two years of shelf life left, and once you’re down to a quarter of a bottle, it’s more like three-four months.
We’d just ask you why on earth you haven’t finished it yet!
Why has my Scotch become cloudy?
Whisky that is stored at very low temperatures can turn cloudy, but the cloudiness should disappear when the whisky is returned to room temperature. Scotch that is non-chill filtered will go cloudy if ice is added to it.
How many calories are in whisky?
The good news is, very few indeed!
A standard measure of Scotch whisky (25ml) contains 55 calories – fewer than a banana.
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).
If you start adding mixers like cherry coke, grenadine syrup and sugared sprigs, of course, the calorie count of your drink will change considerably.
Is Scotch whisky suitable for a vegan diet?
Scotch whisky is not produced from any animal products and is, therefore, suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets.
Is Scotch gluten-free?
The honest answer is, most probably. Even though Scotch whisky is derived from barley, a gluten grain, the distillation process which makes it an alcohol removes most of the gluten proteins.
Therefore, Scotch whisky can be considered safe for people with coeliac disease.
What is blending?
Blending is literally what it sounds like, only with more precision than one might imagine. It takes years to become a skilled blender, as you need to have the nose and palate to pick out different flavours and to know what works.
Consistency is key to blending, as this is what makes a brand popular. So, the onus is on the blender to get it right and keep producing the same thing.
Why do whiskies from different distilleries vary in flavour?
There are five Scotch whisky regions – Highlands & Islands, Lowlands, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown. Each region has its unique characteristics which affect the flavour of the Scotch.
Water plays a big role, as does the grain used.
Other factors include the size and the shape of the still; a taller still produces a spirit that is often lighter in character.
The effects of size and shape are so important that distillers have been known to put the same dents in their stills when they replace them.
Maturation is also key to the final flavour of the whisky, with the age of the oak a factor in the flavour imparted into the spirit.
Every distillery is different and as such, every malt is different.
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’ happens when a Scotch has been fully matured, but producers want to impart or tease out a little more flavour.
The Master Blender, the person who decides if a whisky is complete, says the whisky is fully matured and it either goes to be bottled or finished in fresh casks, this time for a shorter period.
The cask used for finishing previously held other wines or spirits and must be drained of any liquid prior to its use. Any change in the spirit will, therefore, result from its interaction over time with the wood of the cask.
What makes some Scotch whiskies smoky?
Smoke in Scotch can come from either the peat fire, which is sometimes used to dry grain prior to grinding and mashing, or from the char of the casks, which are burnt on the inside to both sanitize and add more flavour.
What does ‘peaty’ mean when describing whisky?
Peat is best described as decaying vegetation which has formed over thousands of years. Some peat bogs can be woody, whilst other peat can be watery – all depends where on the land it is.
This is then harvested, cut up into small pieces of ‘sod’, stacked and left to dry.
Over a period of two to three weeks, the pieces of peat dry out and the remaining material is tough peat ‘bricks’ that contain more energy than coal.
The peat is then burnt within the distilleries and the grain is then exposed to the smoke of the burning peat. This brings the smoke into contact with the grain, giving the whisky a peaty taste.
The amount of time the grain is exposed to the peat smoke determines the taste of the whisky and the strength of the peat, adjusting the spirit’s flavour.
Peatiness disappears over time. No matter how peaty your whisky is, once you open the bottle it will start to lose its peatiness due to oxidation.
Putting knowledge to practise!
Now that you know more about Scotch – what ‘finishing’, smoky, peaty – let’s try a variety of boutique Single Malts from distilleries in the Highlands, Islay and Speyside regions that feature different characteristics.
Glengoyne 12 Year Old: Completely unpeated, this Glengoyne is soft and fruity.
Old Pulteney 12 Year Old: Matured wholly in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon casks – the result is an “unashamedly excellent” Scotch.
Smokehead High Voltage: Intense peat and smoke to the nose, and to the taste, a burn of hot spirit and the mouth fills with smoke!
GlenAllachie 12 Year Old: Selected from the best casks and bottled under the careful eye of Master Distiller Billy Walker.
Speyburn 10 Year Old: A global favourite and crowd-pleaser matured in a combination of American Oak ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.