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Scotch whisky

Jan 05, 2011 05:14PM ● By Anonymous

Scotch whisky plays an important role in Scotland’s economy as its No. 1 export, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Each year, more than 87 million cases of the spirit are exported worldwide—but which bottle should you try? The first step to indulging in some good Scotch is figuring out which type of whisky to buy and how much to spend. It’s an art to decipher Scotch whisky labels and figure out why certain types of Scotch cost so much.

The price of Scotch whisky typically depends on three things: Whether it’s a single-malt or blended, how long it’s been aged, and consumer demand.

Single-malt whisky, often considered superior to blended, is made from barley and produced at one distillery. Don’t get too caught up in single versus blended, though, warns Kevin R. Kosar, editor of and author of Whiskey: A Global History.

“A lot of folks think single malts are, by definition, better and more expensive,” he says. “This is not true. I only recently tasted a single-malt that retailed for $22. It was mediocre.”

What’s more important is the whisky’s age, which means how many years it spent casked in an oak barrel developing its flavor and complexity. The flavor of the whisky can be influenced by the barrel that its aged in—Scotch whisky only uses secondhand casks, so a bourbon cask will impart a different flavor than one previously used to store sherry. It also takes on the scents of its surrounding environment, Kosar says, which is why single-malt Scotches often smell of heather, a flowering plant found in much of Scotland.

A typical price for a 25-year-old Scotch is approximately $250 or higher, while a 50-year Scotch can be priced as high at $6,000 to $8,000, local experts say. There are, however, plenty of good whiskies for less than $50. Kosar recommends White Horse Blended Whisky ($20), Jonnie Walker Black ($30), Laphroaig 10-year ($45), Oban 14-year-old Single Malt Scotch ($50), and Bruichladdich 10-year ($50).

Once you’ve decided which Scotch to buy, there’s one more important question to answer: How will you drink it?

“The only proper way to drink Scotch is whatever way you prefer it,” Kosar says. “Really, if anyone tells you otherwise, just ignore them.”

He prefers to drink his Scotch neat or on ice, but plenty of people drink it with water or in a classic cocktail such as the Rob Roy or Scotch and soda. To warm yourself up on a cold night, follow this traditional Scottish hot toddy recipe: Pour a shot of whisky into a mug and add boiling water (How much you add depends on how much you want to dilute the taste of the whisky). Add a spoonful of honey or sugar, half a slice of lemon, two cloves, and a cinnamon stick. Let it brew for three minutes, remove the cloves and cinnamon stick, and enjoy.

“As in life, so in whisky,” Kosar says. “Explore, experiment, and find what’s right for you.”