The first written record of whiskey production, dating to 1494, comes from Scotland, and the country continues, in many ways, to be the center of the whiskey world (don’t @ me, bourbon fans). There are two basic kinds of Scotch whisky: malt and grain. Malt whisky is made only from malted barley. Grain whisky also includes other grains, like corn or wheat. The other legal distinction in the scotch category is between blended whiskies and single malt/grain whiskies. A single malt or single grain whisky is made at a single distillery; blended whiskies are made at multiple distilleries and mixed together. Scotch can only be made in Scotland. It’s aged in used barrels—which may have originally held bourbon, wine, or port—for at least three years. Scotch is bottled at a minimum 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Generally speaking, Scotch blenders aim for a product that’s consistent and drinkable. While there are plenty of good blended whiskies out there, Scotch snobs typically think of single malts as more interesting because each region and each distillery has a distinctive character (although that may be changing). Indeed, there’s quite a wide variation in the world of single malts, from lighter, fruit- or grain-forward drams to aggressive, peaty expressions heavy on salty and medicinal flavors. The list of most expensive whiskies in the world is always dominated by single malt Scotch.