Gourmet Foods 101
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Fine Liquors

Tastes Guests will Notice

There are many types of fine liquors out there to enjoy, with single malt scotch being one of the most popular. Liquor is a distilled beverage, also called spirits. Most fine liquors contain ethyl alcohol and are purified by distillation from a fermented substance such as wine, malt or grain. Fine liquors have been around for centuries. The most common ones in North America are gin, vodka, rum, scotch whiskey, rye whiskey, bourbon and tequila.

Scotch whiskey is known as one of the best types of fine liquor and it is often simply called Scotch. This is a distilled spirit that is made in Scotland. After a lot of translating from Scottish and Irish Gaelic, the word whiskey literally means the water of life. Scotch whiskey is divided into at least three distinct categories. These are single malt scotch, blended scotch and vatted scotch.

For a liquor to legally be called a Scotch whiskey, it must conform to the standards of the Scotch Whiskey Act of 1988. This Act says the liquor must be distilled at a Scottish distillery using water and malted barley, to which only other whole grains can be added. The liquor must also have been processed at that distillery into a mash, converted into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems, and fermented only by the addition of yeast. The liquor must have an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8 percent by volume so it will retain the flavor of the raw materials used in its production. The whiskey must also be matured in oak casts, in Scotland, for not less than three years, and it must not contain any added substance besides water and caramel coloring.

Let's focus on single malt scotch.

Single malt scotch whiskey is malt whisky that is distilled from start to finish at one distillery and it isn't blended with grain whisky. If the single malt scotch comes from one cask only, it is usually called single cask. Whiskey in the cask can exceed 60 percent alcohol by volume however; most whiskies are bottled at between 40 percent, which is the minimum legal limit, and 46 percent. If the whiskey isn't watered down, it is usually labeled cask strength.

Glenfiddich is the best selling single malt scotch whiskey in the world. Other popular single malt scotch whiskies include Glenmorangie, Balvenie, Glenlivet, Highland Park, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Scapa and Talisker.

Malt whiskey must contain no grain other than malted barley and it should be distilled in pot stills. Grain whiskey may contain unmalted barley or other malted or unmalted grains such as wheat and maize and it is typically distilled in a continuous column still. There are dozens of malt whiskey distilleries in Scotland, but only about seven grain distilleries currently exist. Most of these are situated in central Scotland.

The distilled liquor must age for at least three years to be called Scotch whiskey, although most single malt scotches are aged a minimum of eight years. Some experts believe older whiskies are inherently better, but others find the age for maximum flavor changes drastically from distillery to distillery and even cask to cask. However, older whiskies are scarcer, so they usually cost significantly more.