Scotch demystified: Five questions for Ricky Crawford, The Glenlivet’s national ambassador and educator

By Cathy Huyghe

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Want to know a bit more about Scotch? Today’s Q&A with The Glenlivet’s Ricky Crawford won’t unravel all the mysteries, but it does take an inside look at this amazing spirit from the home of highlands and lochs.

CH: What exactly is a single-malt Scotch?

RC: A single-malt is made at one distillery.

CH: What factors influence the flavor of a Scotch?

RC: Scotch is made only from water, barley, and yeast. The water source for the distillery is extremely important; The Glenlivet’s water source, for example, is Josie’s Well in rocky Speyside. The water filters through the rock and collects minerals, which will affect the chemical reactions and composition during the distillation process.

Another factor affecting the flavors of Scotch is the choice of barrels in which the liquid is matured, such as French oak barrels, American oak barrels previously used for making Bourbon, and Spanish oak barrels previously used for making Sherry. All three impart distinct aromas, flavors, and characteristics to the Scotch.

CH: Why is oak the preferred medium for maturing Scotch?

RC: Oak is a hard wood and very durable; its longevity is necessary for aged Scotch. Oak is also a non-resinous wood; its lack of sap means the barrels breathe easier since there is nothing to clog its pores. Oak from different parts of the world – the Ozarks of Missouri, for example, or Limousin in France – have different degrees of density and breathability. That variation, and distilleries’ use of the variety, adds complexity to the final product.

CH: Why add water to the Scotch in your glass?

RC: Water breaks the surface of the pure ethanol of the Scotch in your glass. Water also lets the Scotch open up and release its bouquet. Adding ice to the glass will do the same thing, but as the ice melts, the flavor profile of the Scotch also will evolve and change.

CH: What is the best glass to use for drinking Scotch?

RC: A snifter. The narrow opening at the top of the glass funnels the aroma and targets the bouquet.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.



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