You have a poker night with the boys. So, it’s time to break out the good stuff -- Scotch.

Scotch whisky is a popular spirit that is highly regarded by men. Put some hair on your chest kid.

Scotch whisky is a blend of malted barley which is distilled in alcohol for percentages and stored for a minimum of three years before hitting the bar shelves.

Scotch was first introduced in 1494 and was then referred to as “Aqua Vitae”.The spread of scotch to other classes helped boost its popularity within Scotland and in 1880 when the famous Phylloxera bug in France took place, its worldwide spread got underway. This helped it to improve in both smoothness and drinkability.

If you are inexperienced on drinking scotch, or trying out Scotch for the first time, there are factors that would lure you to buying a low quality bottle or shot of Scotch. With Scotch whisky, it is never really about the brand but about these important factors:

Single-Malt Scotch

Single Malt scotch comes from one distillery. That means consistency. Blended scotch uses a masking technique to combine a subpar batch with a good batch to increase the volume.

Single malt scotch is prepared and distilled from Scotland and only consists of barley and water. These two are left to age in barrels for a minimum of three years and the only additive used on them is caramel coloring.

Now this is where the secret lies; single-malt scotch can be either peated or non-peated with the latter mostly for beginners. Peated scotch refers to one that has the taste of smoke and earth to it and these two come from the heating it undergoes during distilling.

Age of the Scotch.

Scotch is normally placed in barrels and the longer it stays there with the right conditions, the more matured the scotch. The older the scotch is the smoother the scotch is.

Matured Scotch defines one that has stayed in the barrels for longer than the usual time and has picked up interesting flavors. Age normally does not affect a scotch’s price; a 12 years old Lagavulin bottle will retail at $99 with a 16-year-old going for $65. This clearly shows two things; firstly, how expensive scotch could get and secondly that price is a better determinant of quality.

Regardless, 12 years is a good starting point to get good quality scotch.

Balvenie Scotch
Balvenie Double Wood Scotch via Mark on Flickr

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

Alcohol content in any type of scotch will range between 40% and can go upwards up to 80 or 90%. However most Scotch bottles are retailed with a standard ABV that falls between 40%-50%. When Scotch is harvested directly from the barrels, it comes so strong that it has to be diluted with water in order to achieve consumable ABV levels.

For a beginner, a 40% Scotch bottle mixed with just water would be a good try; you won’t miss on the scotch’s quality as well as it won’t be too smooth to lose its meaning. I would advise you to try one single-malt scotch that best matches the above descriptions and you won’t regret it.