Let the celebrations begin: Raise a toast to your favourite dram on Scotch Day
The world of Scotch whisky can be a daunting one to those who have just tried the drink. Today, we are going to a take look at the main categories of Scotch whisky, its history along with a few of my favourite whisky cocktail recipes for you to try at home. So, by the end of this article you will be armed with the knowledge to navigate the category like a pro and celebrate National Scotch day on July 27.
Scotch Day is a day to celebrate the much-loved whisky (Pic credit: Shutterstock)
Styles of dram
The most common question I get asked, is the difference between a single malt and a blend. This is one of the most important things to know and will help you decide what style of dram is best for which occasion.
A single malt is a whisky that has been produced at only one distillery with purely malted barley. For example, Singleton of Glendullan is whisky that has been exclusively produced at Glendullan Distillery in Speyside, Scotland. It is important to note that it is not a single cask of whisky, but a blend of many casks of different ages from the one distillery. The age of the youngest cask represents the age statement on the bottle.
A blended scotch whisky on the other hand, is created by blending whisky from a number of single malt and grain distilleries.
History of whisky
Like all spirits, whisky production began when the knowledge of distillation combined with locally sourced ingredients. Barley, a crop that grows well in the Scottish terrain, became the ideal raw ingredient with which to produce this beloved liquid.
However, the whisky that was consumed way back in the 1400’s was a far cry from the whisky we know and love today. As early distillation techniques were not as sophisticated as those in use today, it would have been fiery and harsh, shortcomings that were probably easy to overlook after a day working in the Scottish fields.
Farmers would regularly gather in bothies (small huts in the wilderness) to share a dram after a long day. Not only was it wonderful at bringing people together, but whisky provided a second source of income for grain farmers who could now sell their produce for distillation. A use that allowed grain to be preserved indefinitely, instead of having excess yield deteriorate if supply outweighed demand. Whisky would also sell at a higher price than the grain itself, so it became a very popular product to both consumers and merchants.
Rise in popularity
Scotch whisky can be the base of many interesting cocktail recipes (Pic credit: Shutterstock)
This increase in popularity and revenue, did not go unnoticed by the British taxmen. To avoid having to share their earnings with the government, the industry went underground, and it became increasingly common for private stills to be hidden in the Scottish Highlands and Islands where the taxmen daren’t venture.
Helen Cumming – the first female distillery owner – of Cardhu (the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker) notoriously used to quickly convert her distillery into a bakery, covering herself in flour when she saw the taxmen coming. She would then invite them in for tea and surreptitiously raise the flag to warn nearby distillers that the taxman was in the vicinity.
It was this collective rebellion that allowed the industry to work together instead of in competition. Once the 1823 Excise Act lowered taxation to reasonable levels, the industry quickly legitimised and came into commercial light.
John Walker, a humble grocer, had developed a skill for blending tea for his customers and as the whisky industry began to grow, saw an opportunity to apply his skills elsewhere. He discovered that by blending whiskies from different distilleries, he could produce a complex and consistent spirit. Seeking whisky from the four corners of Scotland, he would carefully blend them at his grocer’s store in Kilmarnock, in Western Scotland. By blending a selection of whiskies, he could layer the flavours from the various regions to create a custom blend for his customers.
This blending expertise was passed onto John’s son, Alexander Walker, when John passed away in 1857. Alexander had a business mind and could see the popularity growing, so in 1867 he registered the first commercially available blended whisky.
Single malt whisky began growing in popularity in the 1950s as the quality produced from individual distilleries increased. Public confidence in the category grew and consumers enjoyed being able to taste the distillery character of the single malt which often offered a bolder flavour and was representative of the region.
Scotch in India
Indians know a delicious dram when they taste it. Imported brands of whisky are growing year on year, yet one cannot miss the quality of Bottled in India (BII) brands. These brands import whisky from Scotland then blend and bottle in India creating a fantastically price efficient category for those who are looking to try their hand at whisky cocktails at home.
We are seeing a vast increase in whisky consumption from millennials, largely because the category holds incredible variety and flavour. If you are ordering a vodka soda, it is going to taste near identical every time, however, if you order a whisky highball (whisky soda) you have a different drink each time you change the whisky. The highball serve provides the perfect vehicle to allow new whisky drinkers to test whether whisky is for them and I can assure you that for the majority, it is!
Here are a few of my favourite Scotch cocktail recipes…
Old Fashioned cocktail
Singleton Old Fashioned cocktail
60 ml Singleton of Glendullan 12yr
10 ml Sugar Syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1. Add all ingredients into an ice filled mixing glass
2. Stir for 20- seconds
3. Pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass
4. Garnish with an orange twist
The Speyside Lowball cocktail
60 ml Speyside whisky
15 ml Apple syrup
100 ml Soda water
5 ml fresh lime juice
1. Add all ingredients to an ice filled rocks glass
2. Stir quickly
3. Garnish with fresh apple slices and mint
Red Rye Sour
Red Rye Sour cocktail
60 ml Red Rye whisky
30 ml Fresh Lemon Juice
20 ml Sugar Syrup
20 ml Egg white
1. Add all ingredients to a shaker
2. Shake for 3 seconds without ice
3. Add ice to shaker and shake well for 10 seconds
4. Fine strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass
5. Garnish with a citrus twist and dash of bitters.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)