Experienced whiskey drinkers advise newcomers to start with blends, which are milder, such as Dewar's, Johnnie Walker and Cutty Sark. But the field of single malts is plentiful and varied. So the best advice is to drink what you like, experiment and be daring once in a while. Your bartender is your best ally.
The color will vary from weak to dark amber depending on the type of cask the scotch is kept in, but beware of caramel coloring meant to dupe you into thinking your brand is grander than it is. Raise your glass gently to your nose; pay attention to the smell. It will tell you a lot about the taste. Take a sip, coating your tongue and letting the flavors set in. Next add a dash of water to open up the scotch. Repeat.
A standard measure is 25 ml and contains 55 calories. With a 40-43 percent alcohol content, the amount is plenty, especially if you're drinking a challenging one.
There are two main branches of whiskey: single malts and blends. But the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009 formally define five categories of Scotch whisky. The description must appear clearly and prominently on every bottle of Scotch whisky sold.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
A Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley without the addition of any other grains, and by batch distillation in pot stills. Since November 2012, single malt Scotch whisky must be bottled in Scotland.
Single Grain Scotch Whisky
A Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals.
Blended Scotch Whisky
A blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
A blend of single malt Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
A blend of single grain Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
Source: Scotch Whisky Association
Whiskies from the Lowlands tend to be soft and light in character. They often display very malty, grassy characteristics and subtle delicate aromas. Examples include Glenkinchie, Blandoch and Auchentoshan.
Malts from the Highlands vary greatly in character and will range from dry to sweet and some have a touch of smoke and peat. Examples include Glenmorangie, Blair Athol and Talisker.
Speyside is home to approximately half of Scotland's malt whisky distilleries. This small area of land located to the north west of Aberdeen produces mellow, sweet, and particularly fruity malt whiskies. Examples include Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan.
The town of Campbeltown was once home to more than 30 distilleries. Today it is home to just three: Springbank, Glen Gyle and Glen Scotia. Whiskies from the town tend to have a little peat and salt to them, and are generally medium to full bodied. Examples included Springbank and Glen Scotia.
The small island of Islay is often called "Whisky Island" given its concentration of eight distilleries. The island produces very distinct malts, generally heavily peated and smoky in taste. Examples include Bowmore, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. The smoky flavor originates from the peat fire over which the green malt is dried, before grinding and mashing.
Scotch must be aged three years in wooden barrels, but a good and proper one should age a minimum of 10 years to mellow and pick up the flavors of the wood.
After a point -- about 21 years, levelheaded connoisseurs generally agree -- age turns into a marketing scheme rather than a quality guarantee that gives companies an excuse to jack up prices for the intimidated newcomer.
WHISKY OR WHISKEY?
Canadian and Japanese brands omit the "e." Scotch and Irish include it. But only Scotch from Scotland can be called a Scotch Whisky.
The term 'whisky' comes from the Gaelic "uisge beatha," or "usquebaugh," meaning "water of life." Gaelic is that branch of Celtic traditionally spoken in the Highlands of Scotland.
Source: Scotch Whisky Association
A gentle guide to Gaelic can be found at www.rampantscotland.com.