whiskey-315178_640Scotch whiskey can be intimidating to many liquor-lovers. Maybe you think it’s harsh and that people only drink it to look cool or aristocratic. But don’t let Scotch scare you. With some basic knowledge, you can start sipping like a pro.

What is Scotch?

It is a whisky (“whiskey” is for American and Irish versions) that is made in Scotland from malted barley and aged for a minimum of three years. Scotch also has an ABV of less than 94.8 percent. Many scotches use only barley, water, and yeast, rather than a blend of cereal grains like corn and wheat.

Single Malts versus Blends:

A “single malt” scotch must be made from barley and produced at a single distillery. Blended scotch is a combination of whiskeys from two or more distilleries. Blending can create different characteristics in the whisky, while single malt showcases a sense of place—like wine varietals. There’s no real better or worse when it comes to choosing between the two—it all comes down to preference.

Where is Scotch Made?

There are five separate regions in Scotland where distilleries are grouped. Each region has historically produced its own style of whiskey—which is important for single malts. Lowland scotches are usually the lightest in body. Speyside is home to Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie—often considered “elegant” and the best Scotch for newbies. The Highland whiskeys like Macallan are heavier bodied. Islay whiskies can be the most acquired taste—often described as peaty or medicinal. Lastly, Cambeltown, which is known for producing rich, smooth, and refined styles of Scotch.

How Do You Drink It?

While it really all comes down to preference, the right glass definitely matters. Go with a whiskey glass (or a “nosing glass”) rather than a rocks glass. Much like wine, the aroma is important. Don’t be afraid to add water. It can actually enhance the flavor—and make it easier for a new scotch drinker. If you like it on the rocks, be careful about ordering with too much ice, which can melt and dilute the flavor. If straight Scotch still isn’t your thing, there are great Scotch cocktails out there—one of the best is the Rob Roy, the Scottish version of a Manhattan, or the easiest of all—a Scotch and soda.

Scotch is a complex drink but it’s nothing to be scared of. So forget the stereotypes and enjoy. Sláinte!