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The ultimate guide to scotch

10 May, 2015 by Vir Sanghvi

The ultimate guide to scotch

Are you confused by whisky snobbery? By people telling you they only drink single malts? By manufacturers telling you that their whisky is better because it is older?

Here’s a rough guide to what all you need to know to cut through the snobbery.

Malt Whisky

The basic constituent of all whisky. Until the second half of the 20th century, malt whisky was largely unknown outside of Scotland. It was blended to produce Scotch whiskies. Then, slowly but surely blends gave way, in the snob stakes, to single malts.

Most single malts have distinctive characters, usually depending on the regions they come from (Speyside, Islay, Lowland, Highland, etc.) There is no such thing as the single best malt in the world. You drink what you like.

Blended Scotch

Much of what we call Scotch is a blend. For instance, Johnny Walker combines several different malts and it is believed that Cardhu is at the heart of the blend. No company will ever tell you exactly how many malts go into each blend but experts can guess.

In Scotland and the rest of the UK, most people drink basic blended whiskies (say Ballantine’s Grant, Johnny Walker Red, etc.) and the phenomenon of the high-priced blends is foreign to the UK.


In the old days, most companies made very few whiskies. Johnny Walker made Red Label, its basic whisky and Black Label (made with better and older malts). Chivas Brothers made Chivas Regal (on par with Johnny Walker Black Label or thereabouts) and, after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, a small quantity of a superior whisky called Royal Salute.

Now, the market is super-complicated. Johnny Walker first launched Blue Label as its answer to Royal Salute. Then came endless other labels: Gold, Green, Double Black, Platinum and God alone knows what else. Chivas began selling variants based on age and the situation became hopelessly confused.

What Should You Do: Ignore the snobs. Drink what you enjoy. The malt whisky market in India is largely a battle between two close competitors -- Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. The blended whisky market is divided between Johnny Walker (made by the giant Diageo) and Chivas (made by another giant Pernod Ricard). Both are good whiskies.

How Should You Drink It: For malt, a little water to release the aromas is best. For blends, slightly more water is good. Nobody recommends drinking it on the rocks in Scotland. But then its not as hot there as it is here.

So find your own balance. There are no rules. It is up to your taste-buds.

Written By

Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.

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