Whiskey Categories

Fantastic nose, like french toast in a glass with maple syrup.

the secret to picking a good scotch whisky

Picking out a Scotch whisky from a wall of names you have no chance of pronouncing can be intimidating. Names like Auchentoshan and Bruichladdich, are sure to get you dirty looks from the Scotch enthusiast behind the counter and the people behind you in line. So you choose one the old fashioned way: blind pointing. How different can each bottle of Scotch be, right?

Wrong. That random bottle you pointed out will definitely be peaty, and it’ll probably have some malty flavors. But beyond that, what you get will vary depending on the region where it was produced.

To be clear, the region doesn’t matter as much as, say, wine regions. The barley used in Scotch isn’t tied to the land or a terroir like wine grapes are. Variations come into play with how distilleries produce their final products in terms of how much peat is used, what type of oak cask is used, where the barley comes from, and aging time.

The easiest way to have an idea of what you’re getting without tasting (there are over 100 Scotch distilleries and it’s a pricey task to try and taste them all) is to pick your Scotch based on the region. There are five recognized regions: Highland, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, and Lowland. There’s also Island, which is generally looped in with Highland.


Highland is the largest whisky region by land size. It’s also the region where you’ll get the most variability between different distilleries, thanks to the sheer distance of the region. Northern Highland whiskies are generally a little spicier, while southern Highland whiskies are a little sweeter. Brands include names like Lochnager, Knockdhu, and Glen Ord.


Just below Highland is Lowland. It’s a good place for novice Scotch drinkers to start because it has a lighter body, less peat, and a bit of a sweet vanilla note from the barrel treatment. There are four distilleries in Lowland producing single malt Scotch: Glenkinchie, Bladnoch, Auchentoshan, and, most recently, Aisla Bay.


Right in the middle of Scotland, carved out of the Highland region, is Speyside. It’s named from the river Spey, where many of the distilleries draw their water from. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in numbers. Speyside has more than half the distilleries in Scotland, including many of the more well-known brands like Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Macallan. Scotch from Speyside is generally on the malty sweet side, but is balanced out with peat and a dry finish.


Toward the bottom near Ireland is Campbeltown. It used to be the primary region, but today there are only three working distilleries. In 2009, the Scotch Whisky Association folded the Campbeltown region into the Highland region designation.


Finally, there’s Islay, where the biggest of the big single malt Scotches are made. You know Scotch from Islay from the first smell. It has the most campfire peat flavor of any of the regions, as well as a bit of a saltiness and a dry finish. Some of the big names in the region are Laphroaig, Lagavulin (Ron Swanson’s fireside drink of choice), Bowmore, and Ardbeg.

You don’t have to know every unpronounceable Scotch to pick a random bottle you will enjoy. They’re all peaty, but the variations are in the regions. Pick an unfamiliar Scotch by the region and you’ll have at least a general idea of what you’re getting.

here’s why bourbon drinkers should embrace single-malt scotch

There’s no denying that bourbon has become the brown spirit most American drinkers prefer over any other, but what these drinkers may not realize is that this American whiskey has a lot in common with its Scottish cousin, especially in the ways in which it is made. And that means if you’re fond of bourbon, it’s high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try.

Scottish single malt and bourbon are created in very similar ways. While they may not use the same base-grain ingredients — single-malt Scotch calls for 100 percent roasted barley while bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn — once distilled, these whiskeys both are placed in oak to be aged. They even often wind up in the same barrel! That’s because while bourbon requires that all white whiskey be placed in new charred American oak barrels in order to age and take on its brown color, Scotch does not. While a bourbon producer can only use each barrel once, Scotch producers can use the barrels as many times as they want. What do bourbon producers do? They sell their used barrels to Scotch distilleries. Meaning most of the single malts available on the market were actually aged in American bourbon barrels.

And the similarities don’t stop there. If you’re a drinker of bourbon, unless you’re consuming a single barrel variety such as Blanton’s, your bourbon was made by blending many different barrels together in order to achieve the exact flavor the blenders were looking for, and that’s exactly the same for Scotch. While many might assume a single malt comes from a single barrel of whisky, that is in fact not the case. Single malts simply come from a single distillery, but are made by blending many different barrels at that distillery. In both cases, the final liquid in the bottle is meant to be an expression of the distillery and its blenders, not an expression of what happened inside one single barrel of whiskey.

But what if the reason you avoid single-malt Scotch is because you don’t enjoy smoke, preferring the sweeter style of bourbon? Here, too, you’re in luck, because not all Scotch is smokey. In fact, some distilleries don’t use smoked peat at all in order to dry and toast their barley, and that means the whisky is lighter and a bit sweeter, much like a bourbon. If this is the flavor profile you prefer, look for Scotches that come from the Lowlands. These tend to be on the lighter and sweeter side. Our favorites are Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan.

If you love bourbon, it’s high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try. The similarities are much more common than you’d think.

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