With the recent cold snap, I decided to continue with my pandemic response plan of hiding in the wine cellar until the world returns to normal, only occasionally poking my head out of the basement like some sort of troglodyte prairie dog to catch wind of the latest news or receive the latest home delivery of hooch and groceries at the front door.
While 2021 so far seeming like the 14th month of 2020, there has been one shining ray of light, in the form of the fifth annual International Scotch Day on February 8, an idea conceived by the marketing wonks at Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company. After all, International Scotch Day in February is completely different than International Whisk(e)y Day at the end of March, or even World Whisky Day in May, or National Bourbon Day in June, and even the bizarrely similar National Scotch Day on July 27.
The jaded, world-weary, and cynical readers in the audience may harbor suspicions that all these so-called official days were made up by the distillers and drinks companies of the world as transparent attempts to gain filthy lucre, and those readers would be correct.
In particular, the differences between International Scotch Day in February and National Scotch Day in July seem pretty fuzzy to me, with the international version celebrated the world over, while the National version seems to be USA-only in scope, which seems odd for a non-American spirit.
Still, far be it from me to pass up an opportunity for a wee dram with friends, even if it was over a Zoom call with my usual crowd of reprobates, all safely isolated in their respective homes.
For those new to the world of Scotch Whisky, there are five different classifications that are based on the ingredients and distillation methods used.
Single Malt Scotch would be the one you hear all the whisky snobs raving on about, and is made from 100% malted barley at a single distillery, distilled in a copper pot still at least twice. Despite the single part of the name, single malts may contain more than one batch of distilled malts, so long as they are from the same distillery.
Blended Malt Scotch is just like a single malt, with the exception of the different malt batches coming from different distilleries.
Single Grain Scotch uses a combination of malted barley and other unmalted cereal grains from a single distillery, but can use the fancier column still instead of the more traditional pot still. Despite the single part of the name, multiple batches of distilled spirits are permitted, so long as they are from the same distillery.
Blended Grain Scotch is just like the above, with the exception of the different batches of spirits coming from different distilleries.
Blended Scotch is the final catch-all category, and makes up 90% of the bottles you will find on the shelf at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant. These can use any proportion of malted barley and other grains, and can be blends of any of the above types of whisky from different distilleries.
In the fullness of time, as my palate matured and my snobbery lessened, I came to appreciate why single malts made up less than 10% of the market, and how master distillers created a spirit that was more than the sum of its parts through the magic of blending different whiskies in order to smooth off the rough edges of a single malt and create a more balanced flavour profile.
Johnnie Walker is the thundering juggernaut of the Scotch industry, selling more bottles each year than the next three competitors combined, and has held this dominant position for decades. You will find different price points of Johnnie Walker, mostly corresponding to the years spent aging in oak, with each price point a different colour on the bottle for easy identification.
Whatever your whisky proclivities may be, celebrate on your own time and own way without giving in to the day-of-this or day-of-that advertising campaigns of the drinks companies of the world, and never forget that we have world-class malting barley right here in Alberta, so remember to support your local craft whisky distillers.
My favourite local whisky is from the Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, available in both single malt and blended varieties. I lean towards the Rupert’s Whisky, an approachable blend first made available this past September, and available across Alberta for $36.
Being a Canadian Whisky, it does not qualify as Scotch, but Eau Claire Distillery’s Winnipeg-born Master Distiller completed her schooling in Scotland, and was lured away from an Edinburgh distiller back in 2015 to produce Alberta’s first single malt whisky, every bit as good and more as its Scottish cousins. Help support your local grain farmers by picking up an Eau Claire whisky today!