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Scotch Basics

In a 2012 report, Scotch whisky is considered as the cornerstone of the Scottish economy. The annual gross revenue would total of £4 billion and 86% of that comprises the bulk export. The Scotch whisky industry required 10,000 Scottish workers and is supporting a total of 35,000 jobs. Producers in Scotland procures over £1 billion of local supplies and over £200 million was spent on cereals alone.

Legal Definition

Scotch Whisky is simply defined as a whisky that is produced in Scotland. It is a drink that is distilled in a distillery located in Scotland. The key raw materials are water and malted barley. It must also be distilled to an alcohol strength of a minimum of 94.8% allowing it to have an aroma and taste from the raw materials used in the process. Scotch Whisky is strictly matured in a maximum of a 700-liter capacity oak casts in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years.

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For centuries, whisky distillation has been performed throughout Scotland. The Exchequer Rolls from 1494 is where the first written record of Scotch production was found. Ferintosh of Culloden in 1690, is the earliest recorded distillery but it was clear that there were already commercial enterprises running long before then.

In the 18th century, illegal Scotch production flourished despite the effort to legislate the trade. In 1823, the approval of the Excise Act meant that all small scaled stills were made illegal and were charged taxes by the gallon. Also, for larger scale production, license fees were collected. Eventually, this did the trick and now legitimate distilleries are in operation.


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There are two kinds of Scotch Whisky. It can be either a Grain Whisky or a Malt Whisky. Malt Whiskies are made using the Pot Still process. As raw materials, only malted barley is used. Grain Whisky on the other hand, incorporates the Continuous Still process using malted barley with unmalted barley and other cereals like corn and wheat. It can still further categorized into 5 more types.

Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This type of whisky is distilled in one or more batches in a pot still at a single distillery. They are made from water and malted barley but this time other cereal are not added into the mixture. This is also considered as the gold standard of Scotch.

Single Grain Scotch Whisky. Also is distilled in a single distillery, raw materials also includes malted barley and water. Whole malted and unmalted grains or cereals may also be incorporated. Even without the addition of other cereals or grains, it does not pass as a single malt whisky.

Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. It is a mixture of more than one Single Malt Scotch Whiskies that is distilled in more than one distillery.

Blended Grain Scotch Whisky. It is a mixture of more than one Single Grain Scotch Whiskies that is distilled in more than one distillery.

Blended Scotch Whisky. This type of whisky is a mixture of one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.

Scotch producing regions

Traditionally, Scotland is divided into four parts, The Lowlands, Highlands, Cambeltown and Islay. Speyside, which was once considered as part of Highlands, comprises 50% of the total number of distilleries that is approximately 105 in 2013. Consequently, it was recognized as an official region.

The Lowland has only three distilleries in operation with one, Daftmill, currently pending its first release. Speyside houses the largest number of distilleries, which includes Aberlour and Balbenie. Some of Highland’s distilleries include Aberfeldy and Old Pulteney. Cambeltown used to have 30 operating distilleries but currently has only 3: Glen ScotiaGlengyle, and Springbank. Islay has 8 functional distilleries including Ardbeg and Laphroaig.

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Image credit: “Scotch regions” by Drawn by User:Briangotts as Image:Scotch regions.png and converted to SVG by w:User:Interiot. – Erskine, Kevin. 


The labeling of a Scotch whisky is composed of several elements, which indicates aspects of its production like age, bottling and ownership.  Scotch Whisky Regulations regulate some of these elements. In terms of spelling (whisky or whiskey), it is debated by consumers and journalists. The Australian, Scottish and the Canadians use “whisky” while the Irish use “whiskey” instead.

The brand name that is placed on the label is usually the distillery name. Indeed, the Scotch Whisky Regulations prohibit the company from using a distillery name when the whisky was not made there. It is also necessary for Scotch whiskies to be distilled and labeled only in Scotland. Labels must also indicate the region where the whisky is distilled. Other information can be found in The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009.

The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 is a guide that would help the producers on label designs, packaging and advertising inquiries.

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