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Scotch 101

Eight things to know before ordering whisky

February 2014

'We borrowed golf from Scotland as we borrowed whisky. Not because it is Scottish, but because it is good.'
Horace Hutchinson, British amateur champ (1886-'87)

1. All scotch comes from Scotland, contains malted barley, and must be aged for at least three years in an oak barrel. Also, the Scots drop the "e" in whisky.

2. Order it "neat" (no ice) or "on the rocks." If you order it neat, add a few drops of water to open up its aromas and flavors. Now you're becoming an experienced scotch drinker.

3. Scotch should come in one of two glasses: a rocks glass (below) or a whisky glass, which is smaller, tulip-shaped and designed for neat pours. Accept no substitutes.

4. Two of the main categories are single malts and blended whiskys. Single malts are usually priced higher, but that doesn't mean they're better.

5. Scotch distilleries are divided into five regions, and each area has distinct flavors. Remember these two: Speyside (sweet, mellow, fruity) and Islay (bold, peaty, smoky).

6. Do not "shoot" a scotch and chase it with a beer. It's meant to be sipped and savored. That being said, there are times when quickly downing a scotch is more than appropriate (wedding day, for example).

7. The age statement on the bottle reflects the minimum time it stayed in an oak barrel before bottling. Older scotches (12 to 25 years) tend to be more expensive because the casks have more time to infuse flavor.

8. It's OK to get a good whiff before you drink. But don't describe the smell unless asked. Caution: Many whiskys aren't made with peated malt, so don't say "it's peaty" just because it smells smoky.

SCOTCH: ISLAND STYLE
Umbrella drinks aren't for everyone. So what should you do if you find yourself on a beach somewhere and want to order a drink with an island vibe? Consider a scotch with a little coconut water. Some might consider this sacrilege—you wouldn't want to do this to a Macallan 18. But adding coconut water to a decent blend not only mellows the drink, but it complements the whisky's flavors.

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