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  • How Scotch Is Made | Ingredients & Production

    Published on September 27, 2021
    How Scotch Is Made | Ingredients & Production

    Scotch is a form of whiskey that is only made in Scotland. It is made through a complex process of malting, fermenting, and distilling barley with other cereal grains. If whiskey is spelled “whisky” instead of “whiskey,” there is a good chance it comes from Scotland.

    Scotch is an exclusively Scottish product. Even if distillers in other areas try to follow the process to make Scotch, it can only be called “American whiskey,” “Irish whiskey,” or “Japanese whiskey” by law.

    Scotch has minimum alcohol by volume (ABV) of 40%, which is fairly high. Some bottles can have over 90 percent ABV, which can be dangerously high.

    Main Ingredients In Scotch

    Scotch has only a handful of main ingredients. The long, complex process of making Scotch transforms these simple ingredients into a drink with a complex flavor profile:

    • malted barley
    • unmalted cereal grains (rye, wheat, corn)
    • yeast
    • water

    United Kingdom law states no additives can be added to Scotch, or else it will not legally be Scotch anymore.

    Scotch can blend different types of Scotch together to make a new flavor profile. Popular types of Scotch that are blended together include Highland, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, and Lowland. These whiskies are separated by where and how they are made.

    Scotch Production

    Scotch production follows a detailed process that starts with grains:

    Malting & Mashing

    Making Scotch starts with malting the barley grain, which is a process where the grain is soaked in hot water and placed on the ground to sprout (or germinate). Before the barley can sprout fully, it is taken out of the water and dried in a kiln, or furnace.

    Malting turns the starches in barley into sugar. These sugars are brought out during mashing, where they are ground down into flour and mixed with hot water. The sugar from malted barley will help the mixture ferment when yeast is added.

    During the malting and mashing process, other unmalted grains like wheat or rye may be added. If other grains are added to the grain mash, the Scotch becomes grain scotch, but if only barley is used, the Scotch is considered malt scotch.


    Fermentation of the malted barley mixture involves adding yeast and placing the new mixture in large containers to ferment. Mixing yeast with the sugary mix produces alcohol and congeners, compounds unique to whisky.

    Some experts believe congeners that come from fermentation helps give whisky its unique flavor and smell. The mixture ferments for about 2 days before distilling starts.


    Distillation of whisky involves placing fermented barley mash in chambers known as stills, where ethanol is taken from the mash. Two types of stills, known as pot stills and column stills, may be used during distillation.

    During distillation, the fermented mix is heated and cooled in different stills, which greatly raises the alcohol content. Like other forms of whiskey, Scotch is distilled twice before it is stored and aged.


    United Kingdom law says Scotch must go through aging, or maturation, for at least three years in oak casks. Maturing lets Scotch soak up aroma, flavor, and character from the oak barrels, without using additives. 

    The type of oak used to store whiskey can affect the final product. While Scotch is usually aged in used barrels, whiskey made in other places often calls for white oak or new charred oak barrels. The type of barrel used is just as consistent as other parts of Scotch production.

    Differences In Production For Different Whiskeys

    Single malt Scotch whisky is entirely made from malted barley in a single distillery and is likely more expensive than other types of whiskey. It is aged in one oak barrel for years, and some of that whiskey naturally evaporates into the air, making the whisky left behind more valuable.

    Single grain whisky is also made by a single distiller but may mix other grains with the barley.

    Blended grain Scotch and blended malt Scotch mix more than one type of Scotch together, and are also made at different distilleries. Most Scotch that is produced and sold is a form of blended Scotch whisky

    Drinking Scotch & Your Health

    Scotch whisky is a famous alcoholic drink all over the world. Its flavor profile, the potential for high quality, and unique Scottish heritage have been popular for centuries, and the very origin of the word “whisky” comes from a Latin phrase meaning “water of life.”

    Similar to bourbon whiskey, Scotch is often enjoyed by itself or in cocktails like an Old Fashioned. Though Scotch can be enjoyed on occasion, it is still a drink with high alcohol content. Drinking too much Scotch can be bad for your health, especially in the long term.

    If you feel like you cannot control how much Scotch you drink, you may have a drinking problem. To find out if you need professional help for alcohol use disorder, please contact our helpline today.

    Scotch FAQs

    What Does Scotch Taste Like?

    While malted barley is the primary ingredient for most scotch options, a “malty” taste isn’t the only taste provided by a scotch. For instance, whiskey can be aged by using specific oak barrels or casks. 

    Other ingredients such as dried fruit may create a fruity taste for your scotch. Scotch may have an oaky, smokey, fruity, or another flavor. The distillation and fermentation process play an important role in determining the taste of the whiskey. 

    To learn more, read What Does Scotch Taste Like?

    How Much Does Scotch Cost?

    The price of a standard bottle of Scotch depends on the age (older Scotch tends to cost more), type, and brand. 

    There are five main types of Scotch:

    • single malt, which usually costs between $20 and $3,000 per bottle depending on the brand
    • blended malt, which usually costs between $18 and $230
    • single grain, which usually costs between $18 and $1,000
    • blended grain, which usually costs between $30 and $125
    • blended Scotch, which usually costs between $12 and $300

    Are There Benefits To Drinking Scotch?

    Potential benefits to drinking Scotch in moderation include lower cholesterol in the blood, a lower risk of dementia, and improved cardiovascular health. Not everyone who drinks Scotch will get these benefits, especially if they’re drinking too much.

    To learn more, read Is Scotch Good For You?

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Electronic Code of Federal Regulations - Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR)
    Scotch Whisky Association - Legal Protection in the UK
    Scotch Whisky Association - The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009

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