Posted 06.26.13 / From the Bar

Bartender, pour me some scotch

Verdicchio recently hosted a scotch tasting and we wanted to share some of the knowledge gathered from scotch and whiskey aficionado David Notman. This is a great reference for anyone who wants to learn more about single malt scotch and whiskey, how to taste it and how to tell it’s good quality.

David said the first thing to look out for is taste. Single malt whiskey should taste good, not burn or taste like medicine or a burnt stick. “Drinking single malt should not be an endurance test, or a test of manhood,” he said. “ It should be a wonderful, sweet, smoky beverage that you sip with pleasure. If it’s not, then you’re drinking it wrong.”

The following is an excerpt from David’s tutorial on single malt scotch, pure scotch whiskey and single malt whiskey.


Single malt scotch must be three things: made in Scotland, aged for three years, and from a single distillery. Single malt whiskies are different from blended whiskies in that blends (like Chivas, Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse, or Dewar’s) are made with between 20 to 40% single malt whisky, and the rest is grain alcohol; flavourless, distilled liquor made mainly from corn. A blender takes several whiskies (usually very young single malts) and blends them with the grain alcohol to provide a consistent flavour, bottle after bottle, year after year. There is a real art to this,, but the whiskies are still blends.

Pure Scotch whisky, then, is single malt. There are over 100 whisky distilleries in Scotland, and the flavour of each whisky is different, and depends, to a large degree, on what region it’s from. Islay (pronounced EYELA) whiskies have a very smoky, peaty taste, whereas highland whiskies are often rich, sweet, and full bodied. When you try a whisky from one region, and like it, try another whisky the next time from the same region and see if the flavour is similar.
Single malt whisky is aged in oak casks for an average of 12 years before it is bottled (some are bottled at 8 years, others at 3o years). The cask imparts flavour to the whisky as well. Vanilla, citrus, caramel, smoke, honey, and banana are all flavours that can be discovered in various whisky brands.

Whisky is made with water (and ground barley and yeast). As the whisky goes into the cask, it is diluted with water. When it goes into the bottle it is diluted with water. The distillery recommends that you add water to your whisky as well, as it opens up the nose and the flavour. You should add a little at first, then a little more until the whisky tastes the way you want it. Many novice single malt drinkers are turned off the drink because it tastes to strong to them. Adding water makes the drink much more accessible.

When trying single malt, let your nose do the heavy lifting. Most of our sense of taste comes from the olfactory receptors; we taste with our nose. So put your nose in the glass and take a good sniff. You should smell the smoky peat, the lemon notes, the vanilla; whatever flavours are mixing it up in the glass. Add a splash of water now, and sniff again. The aromas will be even more noticeable. Now take a sip. If the alcohol burns and the flavours don’t come through, add more water, until the sweetness appears and the burn is gone. Never add ice to single malt, as it freezes the flavour producing molecules.

The most important thing is to enjoy the whisky. Sip it slowly. Savour the sweetness. Taste Scotland!

–David Notman