How Is Scotch Made? Step-by-Step Guide

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: August 27, 2022

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There are so many types of whiskey that it can sometimes be overwhelming to understand all of them if you are new to the topic as a whole. One of these types is Scotch whiskey. This is a special type of whiskey that has special regulations it must adhere to for it to be labeled as authentic and genuine Scotch whisky. Let’s deep dive and learn how is scotch made.

Table of Contents

How Is Scotch Made

What Is Scotch Whisky?

Scotch whisky is a distilled alcoholic drink that is exclusively made in Scotland. If you see the term ‘Scotch’ it is referring to whiskey that is made from fermented grain mash. It is aged for at least three years in oak barrels in one of the 5 areas of Scotland. These areas include;

  • Highland
  • Lowland
  • Speyside
  • Campbeltown
  • Islay

During the distilling process, it is mostly made from malted barley. There are a few different types of it, but all of them are equally brilliant and are made adhering to the same regulations.

Scotch Whisky regulations

For a whiskey to be labeled as a ‘Scotch whisky’, it must adhere to strict regulations. These mostly control where and how it is produced as this is crucial for the proper distilling. There are a lot of regulations and fine-print rules that must be followed by a company, many of which are too lengthy to describe here. However, there are some regulations that can be summarised. Such as:

  • Scotch Whiskey must be distilled in one of the five areas of Scotland.
  • Must be made of only water, malted barley, and other optional cereal grains.
  • Must be mashed, fermented, and distilled to no more than 94.8% ABV, and be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years in Scotland. The oak casks must also not exceed 700 liters in volume.
  • Cannot contain any other additives except water and caramel coloring
  • Must retain the characteristics of its raw materials and production and maturation methods. (in laymen’s terms, it must smell and taste like whiskey is expected to)
  • Must be bottled at no less than 40% ABV. (alcohol by volume)
How to make scotch

How Is Scotch Made?

For the production, there are six very common processes that are followed by the majority of distilleries. These steps are;

  1. Malting
  2. Mashing
  3. Fermenting
  4. Distilling
  5. Maturation
  6. Blending

The first stages of this production process are crucial and necessary. However, the sixth step is optional as not every distillery is trying to make a blended scotch whisky. The distilleries that are making single malt scotch whisky, for example, would skip this step and instead move straight on to bottling the whisky for distribution by retailers.


The malting process is all about preparing the grains, mostly barley for the rest of the production process. For this step to be done, the barley is soaked in a tank for between two and three days. After this, the water is drained and the grains are laid out on a malting floor. This allows the grains to start to germinate and sprout. Although, it is not instant. The germination can take anywhere up to eight to twelve days.

Germinating the barley is to help with the efficiency and ease of the fermenting phase. Malted barley is a lot more open to fermenting than unmalted barley. Malt whisky is very popular for its deep flavors and strong taste.


Once the grains have germinated, they go to a kiln for drying. Once they are properly dried, the barley is ground into a powder known as grist. This grist is packed into a mash tun vessel and mixed with hot water. The hot water is added to make the starches in the grist convert into sugars.

Once this is done, the remaining liquid is now called wort and is filtered out. To minimize wastage, any solids left in this stage are used to make animal feed.


After the wort has been filtered out of the mash tun vessel, it is combined with yeast. This combination results in a beer-like alcoholic liquid known as wash. The fermentation process as a whole takes forty-eight hours for scotch whisky.


Distilling is a very crucial part of the process as it is where any impurities in the whiskey are going to be removed.

The process takes place in a pot where the wash is heated until it turns into a vapor. This vapor rises and goes to a cooling plant where it is turned back into a liquid. This distillation process is repeated two to three times by a lot of distillers, although it may vary. Some impurities may still remain after this, but there will be significantly less than there initially were.


Maturation is by far the longest process out of the entire production as it takes a minimum of three years for scotch whiskey. Some whiskey can be matured for only a few days, or maybe a few decades. However, it is not allowed to be sold until at least three years have passed. Anything sold before this time is not scotch whiskey according to the regulations.

The maturation step begins when the distillate, our liquid, is placed in oak barrels or casks to mature. The type of barrel or cask can sometimes differ but for the most part, it will be made from oak and will have been in use for a lot of years beforehand.

Scotch barrels are commonly ex-bourbon barrels. Bourbon is aged in brand new barrels that have never been used before. The bourbon essentially seasons the barrel and it is then sold on to become a barrel for a more complex whiskey such as scotch.


This is the final step in production and is completely optional. Many distillers may choose to ignore this as they are trying to create a single grain or single malt scotch whisky.

The distillers that choose to include this step blend various casks of scotch together to create a unique flavor. This can be two barrels blended together, or more. Mixing two different types together is a great way for a distillery to make a new and unique batch of whiskey.

Once this step is finished, or if it is skipped, the Scotch is bottled and sent out to retailers or people who have bought some straight from the distillery.

Types Of Scotch

Some processes in the production of this drink can be changed slightly or a variation of ingredients can be used. Any changes will result in a different whisky that a distillery may be trying to create. For the most part, they are split into 5 different types and all are identified as Scotch whiskeys.

Single Malt Scotch Whisky

It is the most famous as it is considered to be ridiculously high-end in terms of quality and price. Only roughly 10% of all Scotch in the world is actually single malt, so the prices for it are incredibly high.

Single malt Scotch is distilled in a single distillery and malted barley is used. The whisky is distilled in pot stills from a mash of malted barley exclusively. No other grains are used, as the name implies, as there is only a single malt used in the recipe for this.

Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Blended Scotch whisky was once known as pure malt whisky. This is created by blending different batches of single malt whisky together to create a blended barrel. The other types of whiskey used in the blend will come from different distilleries and this will result in a very unique batch of whisky.

Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Single grain Scotch whisky is made using water, malted barley, and whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereal grains. This is distilled in a singular distillery.

Blended Grain Scotch Whisky

Blended grain Scotch whisky is a blend of numerous different single grain. They all come from different distilleries and are blended together to create a final product. This results in a grain whisky that will have the flavor profile from a few different bottles.

Blended Scotch Whisky

Blended Scotch whisky is a blend of both grain and malt types. The whisky used in this blend can all come from the same distillery, or can all come from different distilleries. As the word ‘single’ is not used in the title, there is no regulation on how many distilleries can be involved.

How Can you  Make Scptch at Home

Bottles Of Scotch Whiskey

If you are looking for a bottle or two of authentic Scotch whisky to try yourself, you might be looking to spend a fair bit. It can be very expensive as it has to age for a minimum of three years. On top of this, any country outside of the UK must import the whiskey from Scotland, which can further add to the price.

For anyone wanting a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, both Lagavulin 16 years old, and Highland Park 18 year are amazing choices for anyone wanting to try some whiskey.

FAQs On Scotch Whiskey

How is scotch different from whiskey?

Scotch is different from other whiskies as it is adhering to multiple regulations that limit how and where it can be made. The main difference is that it must be made only in Scotland and must also be aged for three years as a minimum before being bottled and sold.

What is the main ingredient in Scotch?

The main ingredient in Scotch is barley. This can be malted or unmalted. Alongside this, the only other ingredients used are water and cereal grains.

What is Scotch and how is it made?

Scotch is a specific type of whiskey that is exclusively made in Scotland. It is made in a distillery following 5 strict steps and a sixth step that is completely optional.

How is Scotch aged?

Scotch is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Anything before this and the resulting whiskey cannot legally be sold as Scotch according to the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009.

How is Scotch made step by step?

Scotch is made by a 6-step process. The sixth step is optional, although it is commonly followed as it allows for a distillery to make very interesting and exciting bottles of Scotch. The six steps are; malting, mashing, fermenting, distilling, maturing, and blending.