Whisky words defined, part 2: Scotch

Part 1 of this new mini-series of blogs looked at the incredibly broad term that is whisky/whiskey, which encompasses everything from Jameson to Jack Daniel’s to Jura. Part 2 is much more specific and looks at a word which should be synonymous with quality and tradition: Scotch.


Image credit: Scotch Whisky Association

The key lesson here is as follows: all Scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is Scotch. In other words, Scotch Whisky a sub-category of whisky, in the same way as Japanese Whisky or Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The short (but very simplified) answer is that Scotch is whisky that is made in Scotland.


Image credit: United Spirits

The role of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is effectively to promote and protect Scotch Whisky as a product and also as an industry. They have a very strict set of guidelines as to what can and cannot be labelled as Scotch Whisky. The full list of rules is extensive, but key points include:


  • Distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland
  • Matured for at least three years in oak casks
  • Bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% ABV.


With Scotch Whisky, therefore, being such a great hallmark of quality, the word ‘Scotch’ is at constant risk of being misappropriated by producers of what is often an inferior product. For example, whisky produced in other countries may be labelled ambiguously as ‘blended with Scotch’ or ‘Scotch-style whisky’, or given misleading brand names such as Glen Sporran or Highland Haggis. McDowell’s and Bagpiper are both Indian brands that sell a combined 30 million cases per year (by way of comparison, Glenfiddich sells just over one million cases per year), but they were forced to re-brand in markets outside of India as customers may have been misled to believe that the product is Scotch Whisky.


Part 3 of Whisky Words Defined will look at another rarely-understood term: ‘single malt’.


McTear’s are now accepting entries for the 25 May whisky auction. For more information please view the website >>


McTear’s sells more whisky than any other traditional auction house in the dedicated whisky auctions that take place monthly, run concurrently live online on a platform that attracts six million visitors annually from over 120 countries worldwide.

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