Well, the short answer is: no. The long answer is: keep reading.
Now, you may have heard people use the term ‘Scotch’ as a catch-all for spirits like single malt or blended whisky. You may have even heard the people or products of Scotland referred to as ‘Scotch’. And, there’s a reason for that.
You see, ‘Scotch’ is simply an old term for ‘Scottish”, which comes from the Latin ‘Scotia’, stemming from the days the Romans referred to Gaelic raiders (originally from what is now Ireland) as ‘Scoti’ or ‘Scotti’.
What is Scotch whisky?
Today, Scotch refers to a grain or malt whisky distilled in Scotland, and aged in oak casks for at least three years before bottling. It must also have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of at least 40%, and be made of nothing more than grain, yeast, and water (and sometimes a little caramel for colour). The term ‘Scotch’ is actually protected around the world, and particularly by UK law which treats the term as a geographical indication of origin. If a bottle of whisky is sold as Scotch, it must, by law, contain nothing other than Scotch (or, Scottish) whisky which must be distilled, aged and bottled in Scotland.
What are the types of Scotch whisky?
Within Scotland, you’ll find different styles of whisky. These designations refer to the raw ingredients used, and the type of still used in distillation.
The styles include:
Malt whisky from Scotland is distilled from malted barley, in pot stills (at least twice, but occasionally three times), and aged in oak. The malting process allows the barley to be fermented, and it gives you a sweet, malty (well, obviously), rich spirit. When it is made entirely within one distillery, it is referred to as ‘single malt whisky’, and famous single malts include legends like Ardbeg, Balvenie and Glenfiddich.
When you blend together malt whiskies from more than one distillery, you get ‘blended malt whisky’, which used to be referred to as ‘pure’ or ‘vatted’ malt. N.B: this is not to be confused with ‘blended whisky’ (see below). Some popular blended malts include Sheep Dip and Big Peat.
Grain whisky is typically made in column stills and is usually distilled from wheat or maize (corn) but it could be barley, both malted and unmalted, or rye. The use of column stills provides you with a less complex, intense spirit. However, it is much less expensive to produce. It is typically used for blends, but you can find grain whisky bottled on its own, usually by independent bottlers. If you bottle grain whisky made at just one distillery, it can be labelled ‘single grain whisky’. Some great examples include Invergordon and Cameronbridge.
Blended whisky is simply a blend of both grain and malt whisky. This is done to combine the less expensive grain whisky with the tastier, richer malt whisky. What you can end up with is a spirit which tastes great and is cheaper to produce. Simple. That’s why blends like Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker are the bestselling style of whisky in the world. You can also find some really premium, well-aged examples too.
How do they calculate the age of Scotch whisky?
The age on a bottle of Scotch whisky simply refers to the time it’s spent in an oak cask. It has nothing to do with the year it was distilled, and as whisky doesn’t age in the bottle, the age statement will not change. The stated number actually refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle, meaning that everything inside has been aged for at least that many years. If there’s older whisky mixed in, which is often the case, it can certainly add flavour, but it won’t affect the age statement.
You may wonder why we are making this distinction. Well, distilleries frequently blend multiple casks together. They do this for various reasons, not least of which is to maintain a consistent flavour. If you buy a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 Year Old, for example, it may have a mix of 15 year old whisky as well as older spirit, but it will always taste the same (delicious).
Are ‘Scotch’ and ‘butterscotch’ related?
The answer is… maybe? It’s a hotly debated topic. Some claim the “scotch” part of “butterscotch” is a reference to the fact it is cut or scored (or, “scotched”) into pieces before it is allowed to harden. Another possibility is that it’s a derivation of the word “scorch”, referencing the intense heat used to make butterscotch. And, finally, some suggest it is simply because of associations with Scotland.
Do other countries make Scotch whisky?
No. However, many countries make whisky in the Scotch or Scottish style. Not least of which is Japan, whose big-name spirits brands Suntory and Nikka distil and age their whisky in a style very much inspired by that of Scotland. There are countless (figuratively) others, such as France, Sweden, India, Germany, and whilst some of their whiskies may taste very much like Scotch, they are not actually Scotch whisky.
It’s not uncommon for Scotch whisky to be shipped in bulk to other countries either to be used in blends or for further ageing, like Nomad which is part-matured in Jerez in Spain. This spirit can no longer be classed as Scotch whisky.
That’s it. I hope this answered the question thoroughly as to if Scotch whisky can, indeed, be bottled outside Scotland!