It’s always prudent to do a bit of research before running head-first into the brick wall of intimidation that is Scotch purchasing. Maybe you learn about the way Scotch is produced. Maybe you’ll read up on the characteristics of the different regions. But one thing even the most studious among us forget is how very strange and phonetically mysterious Scotch names can be.
There’s good reason. Scotch names are written with a Gaelic alphabet, and its variously musical, peculiar, and maddening pronunciations of seemingly recognizable letters. Thus, as you try to discuss a bottle of AnCnoc with your local Scotchmonger, you appear a fool.
No longer! Or at least, not as long as you can remember our handy—if not entirely comprehensive—Scotch Whisky Pronunciation Guide. There are already several resources out there, from the recognizably sultry tones of Brian Cox to the distillery websites themselves, to low-fi but comprehensive guides like this one, prepared by some Scotch devotees who just so happened to found the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. All useful, all labors of tongue-twisting love. But wouldn’t it also be just a wee bit handy to have a cheat-sheet of some of the most unpronounceable Scotch whisky names deciphered for your enunciating and purchasing pleasure?
Bear in mind, we’re not even amateur phoneticians. Sometimes we still say ‘pisketti’ if we’re drunk enough. But we are very easily ashamed of ourselves, prone to self-correction at the bat of a doubtful eye. We’re also prone to pronunciation overreaching, like that friend of yours who lapses into a thick Italian accent upon presenting the Valpolicella (and thank you, Todd). The basic goal of Scotch (beyond getting some, and soon) is maintaining a respectable decency, before ultimately lapsing into apocryphal tales of the sea you just made up because you’re now entirely wasted.
You won’t find easily pronounced names like Macallan or Glenlivet here. Incredibly popular, but fairly intuitive when it comes to pronunciation. We’re also not including bottles that are hard to pronounce but also ridiculously hard to come by. That said, there should be some recognizable, purchasable bottles here—and some you may ne’er have purchased on account of a sudden bout of tongue numbness.
Who knew stuff that slides so smoothly down the tongue could also clamber so awkwardly out of it?
Think Matt Lauer (and think hard) and then add Aber: ABUR-LAUER.
You won’t see this one as often as, say, Ardbeg (which is pronounced blessedly simply). But cool points if you know it’s ALT-A-VAIN.
Aaaand we’re off to a swimming start here. This seems like a spelling practical joke, but it’s actually a fine whisky, easily pronounced AH-KNOCK.
This one sounds a bit like German. In fact, just say it like a Die Hard villain. The “ch” is soft and annoying like when people say “Bacchhhhh”: ACH-EN-TOSHEN (alternately OAK-EN-TOSHEN).
Vowels lie to us in most every language (ahem, sometimes y?). Here’s an excellent instance, with that “a” trying to throw us all off our pronunciation game: COOL-EYE-LAH.
Like when you’re trying to encourage your dying automobile to make it up a hill: CAR-DO!
“Ben” is easy (aren’t all Bens? Kidding, guys). The second part just apes the way we say ‘react,’ minus the ‘ct’ plus that soft ‘ch’: BEN-REE-ACH.
It’s almost like you’re saying “brook laddie,” like some dude who loves to chill by brooks, except here if you wanna get really authentic, that “ch” has a “challah” type ring to it: BROOCH-LADDY.
This would kill in Scottish Scrabble: BOONA-HABBEN. Bonus authenticity points for BOONA-HAVVEN.
Fairly straight up, just don’t forget to Martha Stewart this mofo, e.g., DAL-HWINNIE.
What time is it? It’s Edra d’hour! Alright, forget that. Just not that the last syllable is pronounced like “hour,” not “pour”: ED-RA-DOUR.
Another easy one to get wrong. Just remember the Chronicles of Riddick (and how can we forget) for GLEN-FIDDICK.
This one is only on the list because it breaks the general rule of “no chimichanga” ch-sounds. That “ch” is, indeed, pronounced like “cheese” here: GLEN-KIN-CHEE.
Seems simple, right? Wrong! Hang your head in shame. The g is actually “soft,” like in “Scotch prodigy.” So this Scotch sounds like you want your friend Glen to go BACK to the tanning salon: GLEN-MORANGEE.
There’s a temptation to pronounce this like “clothes,” but it’s GLEN-ROTH-IS.
“You’re a (shameless jerk/rosebud-of-a-guy),” with a “J”: JU-RAH.
Not actually too tough, just easy to find and easy, if you’re too pumped up for your Scotch, to overpronounce. A hard “g”—as in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” (OK, actually, just the “Ghost” part.) LAGA-VOO-LIN
Iconic enough as liquid campfire, so you may already know how it’s pronounced. But just in case you want to give up on that second (or is it third?) syllable, don’t. Just whisper LA-FROIG (LA-FROYEEG, sped up).
Not as straightforward as you’d hope, the only trick here is putting like…40% effort into pronouncing that “a.” A bit like OBEN, almost OB’N.
Another case of a dropped vowel. And a Scotch that sounds like a shepherding injury” OLD PULT-KNEE.
A hard “g” as in “Go on with your bad self, you sexy Scotch lover.” And Loch as in “Loch Ness,” and thank god for that lake monster and all the teachable moments she provides: LOCH-NA-GARR.
Why is that “s” there? To throw you entirely off your game, fool. STRATH-EYE-LAH
Some Random Rules of Thumb:
Ben, as in life, is typically pronounced “Ben.”
“CH” tends to get the fancy treatment of a Johann Sebastian Baccchhhhh, but you can also use a hard “K” sound. Just never the “ch” sound in “chimichanga.” (Almost never. See Glenkinchie.)
Vowels are thrown around, lost and reappearing like bell peppers in a side salad.
“Glen” simply means “valley,” no association between distilleries. Or Glenn Gulia.
When in doubt, point and smile.