The Five Biggest Scotch Myths And What Is Wrong With Them
By Richard Thomas
With its rich, deep pool of lore and traditions, Scotch whisky is one of those drinks that gives its lovers as much to learn as to enjoy. Yet all that knowledge inevitably means no small amount of misinformation as well, and I sometimes find myself surprised at just how prevalent certain misunderstandings and myths are, both with casual drinkers and among those who ought to know better.
Here are the top five Scotch whisky myths and what is wrong with them:
5. Color = Flavor: This myth come mostly, but not entirely from drinkers outside of Europe. The idea that darker color equals more flavor is wrong because many brands use caramel as a coloring additive, either to establish a consistent look between batches or to outright darken their product (exploiting this misconception, no doubt). Color is sometimes indicative of the kind of wood used to mature a whisky, but many very flavorful Scotch whiskies have the standard gold or pale yellow appearance.
4. “Single Malt” Means It All Comes From The Same Barrel: Another common misconception is that “single malt” means that all the whisky in the bottle came from just one cask. This confuses the term with “single cask” or “single barrel.” Instead, “single malt” means the whisky is a) all malt whisky and b) all comes from the same distillery.
3. Drink It Neat Or Not At All: This is an odd one for me to debunk, because I am one of those people who prefers his whisky neat. However, that is not the same thing as saying adding water or even ice is a bad move. I’ve watched as august Scotch figures like The Glenlivet Master Distiller Alan Winchester poured not a few drops, but a column of water into a glass of single malt. Some experts prefer their whisky with water, so the only rule here is do what works best for you.
2. Blends Are Bad: Somewhere along the line, the idea of the single malt as representing the character of a given distillery was perverted into the idea that all blended whiskies are bad. As if the plain facts that it’s blended whisky that made Scotch the world’s biggest type of whiskey and that 9/10s of all Scotch sold is blended whisky weren’t enough to disprove this myth, than the rise of a new crop of crafty blenders such as Wemyss Malts and Compass Box ought to have put paid to this myth once and for all. Alas, the myth is not just alive and well, but enjoying robust health.
1. Older Is Better: The rule that an older whisky is a better whisky has so many caveats as to seriously compromise its value. At its heart is that whisky requires proper maturation to reach its full potential, but past that general point all bets are off. Over time the influence of the wood will overcome the native flavors of the spirit, and as a result there are many examples of younger whiskies being superior to older whiskies within a given product line. Too much aging can sometimes subtract from a whisky’s flavor profile its balance and complexity.