The Untraditional Scotches That Are Making Scotch More Interesting
How a seemingly rigid whisky category is opening up to new voices
“Scotch” is a protected designation for whisky that takes into account different legal, geographical and distillation requirements.
There are a few necessities at play here: Scotch has to have at least a 40% ABV bottling strength, undergo three years of aging, be distilled from water/malted barley and maybe whole grains of other cereals, etc. And it obviously has to be produced in Scotland. (Though there are even some quirks therein. The whisky has to be fermented at its distillery of origin, for example; there are plenty of explainers out there for more info.)
Assumptions about Scotch, however, tend to center around the stories behind the liquid, often involving century-plus histories filled with generations of family stewardship, distilleries in far-flung Scottish villages that employ half the town and a whole lot of Gaelic. But some of the more interesting Scotch releases of the past few years, outlined below, have bucked tradition (legally) and shown some notably unique influences. Some of it has to do with unexpected ownership (Australian, Hispanic-American). Or a frame of reference (there’s an American jazz great at the center of one brand’s appeal). And there’s even one Scottish-based whisky out there that is decidedly not Scotch.
Launched in 2014 as a Kickstarter by Carin Luna-Ostaseski, a first-generation Hispanic entrepreneur, SIA (“see-ah”) is a good sipper and a great mixer (not something most Scotch brands like to tout). A blend of Speyside, Highland and Islay malt and grain whiskies, Luna-Ostaseski purposely crafted the tipple for a new audience of whisky enthusiasts. And yes, it wasn’t easy to get her foot in the door. “I’m an outsider, I’m a woman, relatively young in the Scotch industry and I’m Hispanic,” as she told us earlier this year. Also, how many Scotch brands rope in celebrities like Wilmer Valderrama to help out?
A blended Scotch whisky from Bladnoch Distillery — founded in 1817 by two Scottish brothers — Pure Scot is a Bladnoch Single Malt combined with whisky from Speyside, the Highlands and Islay . Nothing unusual there … except that Pure Scot is the first Scotch distillery to be owned by an Australian, David Prior. A surfing fan, Prior aligns his Scotch brand (launched in 2015) with environmental foundations such as Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef and Greening Australia, and has utilized Australian street art on some limited-edition bottles, while also roping in some top-notch Aussie bars for cocktails kits (it’s an excellent mixer).
When you think Scotch, you think … American jazz legend Miles Davis? A blend of grain and mature malt whiskies from Islay, Highlands and Speyside, this whisky (via Riviera Imports and brought to our attention by the founder of the Harlem Whisky Festival) doesn’t impart too much in the way of association with the trumpeter beyond some bottle design and its name, a nod to the famous Miles Davis album. Still, it’s a nice sipper with strong hints of fruit and a subtle bit of smoke.
Not all whisky from Scotland is Scotch, especially when it takes a short trip to Spain. Composed of more than 30 different malt and grain whiskies, mainly from Speyside, each 5 to 8 years old, Nomad’s resulting blend matures in Scotland in sherry casks for three years before being transferred to Jerez, where it’s finished for a minimum of 12 months in old Pedro Ximenez casks in the San Fernando cellar of González Byass. The sherry influence is strong here, natch, with notes of dried fruits, honey and vanilla.
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