Chatelaine Kitchen

Scotch drinking 101: Tips for beginners

Share these tips - and a drink - with family and friends.

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Earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to visit Scotland for a wedding. In addition to being known for its Highlands and haggis, Scotland is also the birthplace of Scotch whisky. With the resurgence of whisky drinking and cigar smoking (thanks, Mad Men), this alcohol is trendy once more.

I’ve always been intimidated by whisky, so Highland Park‘s brand ambassador, Marc Laverdiere, visited the Chatelaine Kitchen to de-bunk some scotch-drinking myths and share his tips for beginner scotch drinkers:

Single-malt vs. blended-scotch – which is better? It’s all a matter of taste preference. Single-malt simply means a product made with malted-barley whisky from a single distillery. This can mean different barrels or batches from the one distillery, and the year on the label indicates the youngest barrel used in the product. A blended scotch is a product made with whisky from two or more different distilleries. It is also more common for blended scotch to use different grain scotches, such as barley, wheat, corn, etc.

Older doesn’t equal better. Again, it’s all based on taste preference. A younger scotch may taste more fruity, with hints of vanilla. An older scotch may have a more complex flavour, with hints of caramel. The longer a scotch is aged in an oak cask, the more it will pick up flavour from the cask. The colour of scotch is also determined by the cask – a light scotch has more likely been aged in an ex-bourbon cask, and a darker scotch has more likely been aged in an ex-sherry cask. Colour is also affected when the grain has been dry-smoked (usually with peat, which also contributes to the scotch having a distinctive smoky flavour or “peatiness”).

Scotch is best served in tulip glasses (like this) instead of large tumblers. The bowl is meant to capture the aroma of the scotch. A wine glass is a good substitute. If neither is available, a low-ball is acceptable.

Don’t swirl. You may be tempted to swirl your scotch (like wines), but resist the temptation! Swirling releases alcohol, which may overwhelm the true taste and aroma of the scotch.

Scotch is best served at room temperature. Traditionally, scotch is served with a side of spring water (tap water may interfere with the taste). Add water, if desired, little by little to your taste. If you do prefer cold scotch however, fill your glass with ice rather than adding one or two cubes. More ice will keep your scotch chilled, without diluting it too much.

Why is scotch often paired with cigars? Scotch is commonly a preferred drink because its taste won’t be overpowered by a strong cigar. We recommend a more health-friendly alternative: pair your scotch with bold-flavoured foods such as smoked salmon, bold cheeses (such as blue or aged cheddar), and of course, haggis!

Lastly, scotch doesn’t have to be reserved for drinking! This whisky can add a delicious smoky flavour to desserts. Try it in our 10-min Caramel (Boozy Caramel variation) or my adult-friendly dessert below – inspired by the traditional Scottish Cranachan – a layered dessert of cream, fresh raspberries, Scottish oats and whisky.

Scotch Cream and Oatmeal Parfait
Prep 10 min
Total 10 min

3/4 cup 35% cream
2 tbsp light single-malt scotch (I used a Macallan 10-year)
2 tsp honey
1 cup oatmeal cookies, crumbled
1 pint container fresh raspberries

BEAT cream with scotch and honey in a medium bowl with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Set a few raspberries aside. Mash remaining raspberries in a small bowl with a fork.
ALTERNATE layers of scotch cream, crumbled oatmeal cookies and mashed raspberries in 2 glasses. Garnish with remaining whole berries. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 1 day ahead.
Serves 2.