The Five Biggest Scotch Myths

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I travel the world educating drinkers about Scotch for a living. Most recently, I was in Taiwan for the annual Whisky Live show in Taipei. Over the course of two days, I conducted 10 masterclasses, during which a number of misconceptions surfaced. I thought I would debunk them in print, since plenty of you no doubt have similar questions.

Pale whiskies are not as good as dark whiskies.

This is a common mistake, especially in Asia, but color is an unreliable indicator of quality. In fact, many brands use flavorless spirit caramel to darken their products and maintain color consistency from batch to batch. But a pale spirit can be robust—like Cutty Sark, which was created specifically for the United States during Prohibition by London wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd.

Whisky should be drunk straight.

No, whisky should be enjoyed just as you like it: straight, on the rocks, with soda (currently very popular in Japan), green tea (the Chinese love this) or coconut water (the craze in Brazil). But for full “appreciation,” particularly of single malt, skip the ice and try a little water, which opens up the aroma and makes it easier to evaluate the taste.

High-strength whiskies aren’t worth it.

Over the last few years, most distillers have introduced potent cask-strength bottlings. But these whiskies are not just gimmicks. Usually, the higher the proof of the alcohol, the more congeners it retains, which means bigger flavor. If you add a dash of water to a dram, these elements become volatile, enhancing the aroma.

Price = Quality.

Not necessarily. Quality is a matter of personal taste and is influenced by who you’re drinking with and where. But there is no guarantee you’ll like an expensive whisky more than you will an inexpensive one. The price reflects rarity, how long the distillery has had to hold on to the whisky and the cost of the packaging.

Age = Quality.

This is perhaps the most debated topic. Older whiskies are usually, but not always, better. And there is a limit to how long a spirit can age. Too long and the original spirit character is dominated by flavors coming from the wood. But for many consumers, the age is really a justification for the price they paid.

Learn more about Scotch and get lots more cocktail recipes in our Scotch guide.

Charles MacLean, Master of the Quaich and James Beard Award winner, is the author of ten books on Scotch, including the Whiskypedia.

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  • Downhill Dude posted 4 years ago

    I might agree with you, now that I'm a true Scotch drinker, but it was bad Scotch that kept me from becoming a Scotch drinker for a few decades. I tried a few cheap blends, when I was much younger, and they were gross. Many years later (20-25), I tried a nice single malt, and was converted. I can tolerate a cheap blend now, but it really turned me off of Scotch for a long time.

    I'm kinda like that with Port, as well. I can drink Tawny now, but never cared for it in the beginning. I still prefer a good vintage Port. Tequila is also a liquor that has a night-and-day difference between the good stuff, and the cheap crap.

  • Darkjedi62 posted 4 years ago

    bad scotch is still better than no scotch

  • nadim posted 4 years ago

    I am a scotch drinker since very long,i enjoyed blended scotch for a long period of time, a friend of mine brought me a bottle of one of the most expensive single malts in the U.S.A. and was bragging about it,I tried it he was positive that i am going to love it,That was not the case! Till this moment i enjoy scotch in different ways according to many things including :weather,mood ,craving and time.

  • Jacob Thrall posted 4 years ago

    All very true! As always, the real expert transcends the level of the snob and offers the same sage advice: if you like it, it's good, everybody else's rules can go hang.

    Probably the biggest Scotch myth here in the UK is "blends are no good, single malt is where it's at". The same sort of advice holds there too, I think. If you enjoy a blend, it's a good whiskey. If you don't like a single malt, it's not as good as your favourite blend. There are great malts, there are great blends; there are some pretty indifferent malts and some pretty appalling blends.

    Let the snobs say what they like about malts (especially the cripplingly expensive ones) always being better than blends - they're not really concerned about whiskey anyway, more about how great a connoisseur they appear to be.

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