What Does Scotch Taste Like? [With 10 Examples]

What does scotch taste like? Scotch whiskey is one of the most popular spirits in the world. It also can be difficult to describe how it tastes. In this article, I’ll describe what scotch tastes like, including the taste of different scotch varieties.

How would you describe the taste of scotch? One flavor that is predominant in all scotch is the “maltiness”. Other main flavors can include fruit, vanilla, and smoke. The taste of scotch varies depending on the type of malt used, the aging time, the region it came from, the process, and its ingredients.

Scotch whiskey or simply called scotch or whiskey is produced in Scotland. It can either be grain whiskey (wheat, maize, and rye) or malt whiskey. At times, distillers combine the ingredients as well. Drinkers describe the taste of scotch in different ways.

A list of the various scotch flavors are as follows:

  • Smokey
  • Rich
  • Fruity (raisin, black cherry, apple, banana, orange, or peaches)
  • Vanilla
  • Flower-like
  • Chocolate
  • Butter
  • Sweet
  • Honey
  • Smooth
  • Luxurious

Read on to learn more about what scotch tastes like and how it is made.

What Does Scotch Taste Like?

Scotch is whiskey made of malted barley or grain in Scotland. The flavor of scotch varies depending on several factors, as mentioned above. Since scotch comes from malted barley, the most common taste is “malty.”

Aged scotch usually tastes fruity with dark berries, tart, cherry, and other citrus fruit flavors. It can also taste ‘smokey’ when the process of production is over a peat fire. The wet barley is typically dried this way. Thus, they tend to absorb the smell of the burnt peat used for drying. Scotch could also taste as vanilla because the distillery may have stored it in American oak barrels that contain vanillin.

Other factors affect the taste of scotch, such as the type of barrels where the distillate is stored, the expertise of the person operating the equipment, the type of water used, the location of the distillery, the existing weather condition, the length of storage, the kind of malt, and the ingredients used.

The malty flavor of scotch comes from the malted barley. Blended scotch can be a mixture of malted barley and non-malted brains, such as corn, rye, or cereal. When scotch is malted, it gives off a rich, deep flavor like butter or chocolate.

The fruity or vanilla flavor comes from the use of oak barrels that distillers used to store other wines. On the other hand, the smokey flavor is due to the peat (decomposed material) fire used in drying the barley.

How Different Popular Brands of Scotch Taste

Here’s a list of the most famous scotch whiskeys in the world and how they taste:

1. Robert Burns Single Malt from Arran Distillery

The scotch whiskey distilled in the Isle of Arran, Scotland, tastes fruity and honeyed. You can relish this scotch on the rocks or not. Distillers used Loch na Davie’s water to make this single malt sparkling whiskey.

2. Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky

This whiskey tastes like vanilla smoothly blended with four single grain whiskeys and multiple single malts.

3. Ardbeg 10 Year Old

This Ardberg liquor tastes like coffee, tobacco, and licorice with a smokey flavor. This flavor is a result of the peat they used in drying the malt. The water used to produce the distillate is also a factor, including the soil on the island of Islay, where the scotch has matured. Drinkers have this whiskey voted as “World Whiskey of the Year.”

4. Glenlivet 15 Year Old

Coming from the northeastern part of Scotland, Glenlivet 15 years old tastes like sweet almond and spice. It’s a single malt scotch whiskey.

5. Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

This scotch is well-appreciated by drinkers due to its richly blended flavor. It uses Speyside malt that produces a mixture of ripe apple, herbs, vanilla, and honey flavor.

what is the taste of scotch

6. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

This scotch whiskey is a smooth and creamy blend coming from the Highland and Speyside regions. This scotch gives off delightful vanilla and dark fruit flavors.

7. Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak

This scotch is from the northeast of Scotland. It has a creamy flavor with a rich aroma of dried fruits and wood spice.

8. Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Finish 2012

The Kilchoman Distillery is the only farm distillery in Islay to grow its barley. It is 100% malted barley and tastes smokey with floral and buttery essences.

9. Highland Park 18 Year Old

This scotch whiskey gives off a smokey and oil flavor. Some may describe the taste as a delicious fruit salad with floral delights blended with honey.

10. Lagavulin 16 Year Old

The Lagavulin 16 year old is distilled in the southern island of Islay. This region is a peat-rich environment, so the scotch has a deep smokey taste.

What Are the Main Ingredients of Scotch?

The main ingredient of scotch is malted barley or grain, or a combination of grain and barley. Sometimes, distilleries add maize, rye, and cereal, too. These ingredients must have gone through the process of proper washing, fermentation, and distillation.

How Do You Make Scotch?

Not anyone is permitted to make scotch in Scotland. The Scotland government has created a scotch whiskey regulation that controls its production, labeling, bottling, packaging, advertisement, and selling.

Scotland produces scotch. That’s precisely why it is called scotch whiskey. If you make whiskey in another place, you can simply name it whiskey, or name it after the place that produced it. For example, if you made the whiskey in Mexico, you can call it Mexican whiskey.

Scotland’s weather contributes to the unique and particular taste of scotch whiskey–aside from the type of water and barley, of course.

There are four major regions of whiskey producers in Scotland. These regions are: 

  1. Speyside – Has a fruity taste, such as apples, cherries, and hazelnuts
  2. The Highlands – Has a smokey flavor and aroma, coupled with a fruity and honeyed rich taste
  3. The Islands – Has a deep smokey flavor. Islay is the main island of scotch whiskey production.
  4. The Lowlands – Has a floral and slightly smokey flavor

Rules When Making Scotch

For distilleries in Scotland, they have to follow specific rules when making scotch.

  • It must be produced in a distillery in Scotland from malted barley and water (with or without whole grains, maize, or cereal).
  • The distillery must process all ingredients through natural means, such as endogenous fermentation with yeast.
  • No other substances should be added except for water and plain caramel coloring (E150A).
  • The distillery must mash the ingredients properly.
  • Must retain the natural taste and aroma of the ingredients.
  • The scotch whiskey must be at least 3 years old and aged in oak barrels.
  • The minimum strength of the alcohol present in the whiskey must be 40% by volume (80% proof).
  • As much as possible, bottles of scotch whiskey must have a label, which shows its age. If not, the bottles must have a NAS (No Age Whisky) label. 
  • It must wholly mature in an authorized warehouse in Scotland in sturdy oak casks with a capacity of not more than 185 gallons or 700 liters.
  • The labeling and selling of the finished product must follow the local and international laws prescribed by the appropriate agency.

The Laws of Scotch

Distilleries have to follow the law before they can sell their products locally or internationally. Thus, if someone makes scotch whiskey in other places not regulated by the scotch whiskey law, it may not be legitimate.

You cannot easily make large quantities of scotch at home and sell it, as it needs proper equipment for fermentation and distillation. Furthermore, your country or state may not allow it as the process can cause mishaps because alcohol is a flammable liquid. Nevertheless, you may be able to make your whiskey for personal use. 

We’ve answered the question, ‘What does scotch taste like?’; next, let’s look at how scotch is made, so you will understand how it gets its unique taste.

General Steps in Making Scotch Whiskey

To give you an idea of how manufacturers make scotch whiskey, here are the general steps in preparing it:

how would you describe the taste of scotch

Step #1 – Prepare the Barley 

Choose the best barley and steep it in water. Spread it carefully on a malting mat or floor. Allow the barley to germinate by tossing or turning them over regularly. Do this for a week (seven days) to allow germination.

Step #2 – Dry the Green Malt

Transfer the green malt (germinated barley) to the kiln to dry. Maintain the temperature of the fire below 70°C to preserve the natural enzymes. Drying the malt using peat would add aroma and flavor to your malt. Your resultant scotch would acquire a ‘peaty’ flavor, too.

Step #3 – Mash the Preparation

When the malt has dried, it is mashed into a powder form in the appropriate container. Add hot water three times, starting at 67°C up to an almost boiling point. Stir the mash thoroughly to allow the conversion of starch to sugar. Obtain the sweet liquid known as wort.

Take note that your water source has a considerable effect on the flavor of your final product.

Step #4 – Ferment the Wort

Fermentation begins when you transfer the wort into the proper containers after cooling it to 20°C. You can then add the living yeast to start the process. The yeast metabolizes the wort to produce alcohol.

The process produces carbon dioxide and congeners as well. This process occurs within two days. The carbon dioxide froth is eliminated with the remaining liquid containing 6-8% of alcohol and the resulting congeners.

Step #5 – Distill the Resulting Liquid

The resulting liquid is further purified through distillation. This step needs special equipment as you have to extract the vaporized alcohol and then condense it again into liquid form. The first distillation will separate alcohol from the yeast and other end products.

In the second distillation, the solution is further purified to produce around 68% alcohol by volume. This distillate is collected in a designated container called “spirit safe.” The designated government agency of Scotland must approve this scotch whiskey safe.

Step #6 – Allow the Distillate to Mature

After the distillate is proven acceptable, the distiller will transfer it to oak casts for maturation. As previously mentioned, Scotland’s scotch-governing body allows three years for the minimum years of maturation. Single malts typically are allowed to mature for eight years or more. Each year, the distillery allows 2% of the scotch to evaporate.

The maturation process would allow the conversion of the higher alcohols into esters and other end products to enhance the scotch’s flavor and aroma.

What Is the Aging Process of Scotch?

The aging process of scotch is a minimum of three years. Single scotch preparations are typically stored in the woods for eight years or more. The most expensive scotch is one that distilleries stored for 30 years or more.

How to Properly Taste Scotch

Before drinking your scotch, you may want to know whether it’s single malt scotch or a blended malt scotch. This way, you can have some expectations of the taste. A single malt scotch can be processed in one distillery, and a single grain scotch will have other grain ingredients aside from barley.

The blended scotch may also be blended malt or mixed grain. Moreover, the blended malt scotch has more than one malt scotch whiskey coming from different distilleries. The blended grain scotch has more than one-grain scotch whiskeys coming from different distilleries. You can try one unit of a scotch drink. This unit is called a “dram.” 

Step #1 – Observe the Color

Generally, the darker the scotch, the older it is. So, expect a more luxurious drink with darker colors and expect lighter drinks with lighter colors.

Step #2 – Smell It

Make sure your nose is not too close, or you’ll inhale too much alcohol at once. You can open your mouth to have a wisp of its flavor as well.

Step #3 – Add Some Drops of Water

The addition of water will not dilute the taste but uncover more of its ‘hidden’ flavors. Adding ice is not the same, though, as the ice’s coldness could prevent the other flavors from coming out.

Conclusion – What Does Scotch Taste Like?

So, what does scotch taste like? The flavor of scotch is typically malty. However, depending on its processing and ingredients, it can taste fruity, floral, smokey, rich chocolate, vanilla, or honeyed. How distillers made the Scotch is a crucial factor in its resulting flavor.

A scotch that used peat fire in drying the malt would taste smokey, and the scotch stored in oak barrels would taste like vanilla or are fruity. Fruit odors may include raisins, apple, banana, orange, and black cherry.

In summary, some of these descriptions are:

  • Malty
  • Smokey
  • Rich
  • Fruity (raisin, black cherry, apple, banana, orange, or peaches)
  • Vanilla
  • Flower-like
  • Chocolate
  • Butter
  • Sweet
  • Honey
  • Smooth
  • Luxurious

So, how would you describe the taste of scotch? Each drinker may have a different experience when tasting scotch whiskey. You will have to drink a dram to know for yourself.