This again is a question which it is very difficult to answer with certainty. Most people would agree that the water used is the decisive factor. Adjoining distilleries which draw their water from different sources are known to produce whiskies that are quite dissimilar in flavour.
The size and shape of the stills are also important as are the skill and experience of the men who manage them. It is the objective of the distiller to produce a whisky whose flavour and character remain consistent at all times and in all circumstances. This is the true art of distilling, acquired only after many years and often handed down from one generation to the next.
How many distilleries are there?
There are around 100 Pot Still Malt distilleries and Grain, or Patent Still, distilleries in Scotland; but the number working can vary from year to year.
Can Scotch Whisky be made only in Scotland?
Yes. Many other products which were originally manufactured only in a particular locality have lost their geographical significance and can now be manufactured anywhere. The word ‘Scotch’, however, as applied to whisky, has retained its geographical significance. This is widely recognised in law throughout the world. Thus, whisky may be described as Scotch Whisky only if it has been wholly distilled and matured in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years.
If you could duplicate exactly a Scotch Whisky distillery in, say, Brazil or Spain, could you produce Scotch?
No. For the reason given in the preceding answer, whisky can be called ‘Scotch’ only if it is distilled and matured in Scotland. Whisky produced in Brazil is ‘Brazilian Whisky’ or in Spain ‘Spanish Whisky’. Attempts have been made to copy the unique flavour of Scotch Whiskies in many parts of the world, but with no success whatsoever.
What is blending? What is its purpose?
A number of distilleries bottle and sell some of the whisky they distil for consumption as single or unblended whiskies. By far the greater part of their production, however, is used for the well-known blended Scotch Whiskies that are sold all over the world.
Blending whisky is a considerable art acquired only after years of experience.
A blend will consist of anything from 15 to 50 different single whiskies, combined in the proportions of a formula that is the secret of the blending company concerned.
Whiskies from different distilleries have a character of their own and, just as people of different temperaments are often incompatible, so some whiskies will not blend happily with certain others. The Malts and Grains in a blend must therefore, be chosen to complement and enhance their respective flavours. Blending is in no sense a dilution. The blender's task is to combine different single whiskies, to produce a blend which brings out the best qualities of each of its constituent parts.
The aim of the blender is first to produce a whisky of a definite and recognisable character.
It is of the greatest importance that his blend should never vary from this standard, which his customers all over the world will have come to expect. His second aim is, therefore, to achieve consistency.
The blender must also decide when the different single whiskies are ready to be used in his blend. They are brought from the warehouse where they have been maturing to the blending establishment, where they are mixed together in a blending vat. They are usually returned to cask and left to ‘marry’ for a period of months, before bottling. Some companies prefer to vat their Malts and Grains separately and only bring the two together before bottling.
The combining of Malt with Malt or Grain with Grain is known as vatting.
When was blending introduced?
Blending was pioneered by Andrew Usher in Edinburgh in the early 1860s. It was only after this practice became common that a taste for Scotch Whisky spread first to England and then throughout the world.
The reason for this was that Pot Still Malt Whisky was inclined to be too strongly flavoured for everyday drinking, especially by people in sedentary occupations and warm climates. By combining Malt Whisky with Grain Whisky, which has less pronounced characteristics, the demand for a whisky that is milder in flavour and more suited to the conditions of modern life can be met.
What is the percentage of Malt and Grain Whiskies in blended Scotch Whisky?
There is no fixed percentage and the proportion differs from one blender to another. No brand owner is willing to reveal the proportions of the different whiskies used, but the blender determines the proportion according to the character he is seeking for his blend. This character is determined not only by the proportions of Malt and Grain Whisky which it contains, but also by factors such as the ages of the individual whiskies and the manner in which they combine to bring out the finest qualities in each other.