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Published: March 2009Adventure Guide: Scotland
Scotland Map

Whisky Guide: 30 Second Scotch

There are more than 80 distilleries across Scotland, and each typically produces a few varieties of whisky. So how do you know which is best for you? Trial and error—paired with a little bit of context.

Text by Andrew Todhunter
Photographs by David Leathborough
The Terms
Single Malt Scotch: The good stuff—made exclusively from malted barley spirits within a single distillery.
Blended Scotch: The everyday stuff—made with up to 40 or 50 spirits from different distilleries, including malt or grain whiskies.
Peat: Partially decayed vegetal matter that, in whisky production, may flavor the water or dry the barley malt when burned.
Deoch-An-Doruis: Gaelic for "the dram at the door." The Scottish equivalent of "one for the road."

The Practice
Ice or No Ice? Nothing says "I’m a sodding Colonial" like ice in a glass of single malt. Sip your best whiskies neat, with no water or ice, or ask for a few drops of springwater, which some claim brings out the nose.
The Glass: The short, broad-rimmed rocks glass used at most bars is a serious gaffe for good whiskies; the wide mouth releases the aromas too quickly. Instead, find a small, tulip-shaped tasting glass designed for the purpose.
The Taste: After swirling the whisky in the glass and observing its color, sip a small quantity. Then work it slowly around your mouth for no less than ten seconds, tasting the spirit’s every note. Then swallow.

The Goods
The King: Among the richest, peatiest single malts now made, none separates the hard core from the dilettantes like Ardbeg. Try the Ardbeg Still Young (about $70) or Very Young (about $300) for a single malt that will, in the words of one enthusiast, "blow your face off."
The Queen: If you like single malts but prefer something less combative, try the Macallan, often called the Rolls Royce of single malts. We prefer the traditional Macallan ($46), aged 12 years in Spanish sherry casks.
The Populist: Between $30 and $40 a bottle, Johnnie Walker Black is a reasonably priced and widely respected blend that suits nearly any occasion.
The Duke: While some rare bottles of Scotch go for tens of thousands of dollars—a 1926 Macallan once sold for nearly $75,000—the Glenrothes 1978 Vintage (about $600) is one of the most vaunted Scotch whiskies now available for less than a grand. —A.T.
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