According to Johnnie Walker (Diageo- https://www.johnniewalker.com/en-za/whisky-guide/the-history-of-whisky/) distilling alcohol is a 4000-year-old practice.
The earliest evidence of distillation in Scotland is from the 16th Century. It began with an order from the king in 1494 for enough malt to make five hundred bottles of aqua vitae, Latin for 'the water of life'.
The earliest whisky was fairly bracing stuff, distilled almost exclusively by monks. It was never allowed to mature and tended to be very raw, as befitted a drink that was seen primarily as a medicine, used in the treatment of everything from pox to palsy.
Then along came Henry VIII who dissolved the monasteries and turned out the monks, whereupon whisky production made its way into the cottages and homesteads of regular Scots.
Over time, these ‘home distillers’ refined the process and discovered that whisky could be a pleasurable experience in its own right.
Fast forward to the early 19th Century and a dram of whisky was a staple of life in Scotland. Some became quite widely available, usually through your local grocer’s shop. The trouble was that these whiskies weren’t always that consistent. The one you enjoyed yesterday might taste completely different tomorrow.
How is Whiskey Made?
The making of Scotch Whisky is an ancient craft that has been developed and refined over time from a cottage industry into a precision process.
Many things affect the final flavour and character of a whisky, from the type of grains and yeast used, to the shape of the still, to the cask and length of time the liquid is matured in it.
This is how Scotland has come to produce such variety in its national drink, from the bold power of the West Coast and Islands to the gentler subtlety of the East.
Here is a simple walk through the basics of making a true Scotch Whisky.
The whisky making process starts with cereal. Cereals are high in starches
which need to be converted into soluble sugars in order to make alcohol. This
happens naturally during germination, so hot water is added and the mixture
warmed until the cereal thinks it is time to grow. This is called malting.
The growing process is halted by drying the cereal in a kiln. Peat smoke is sometimes used to aid the drying and impart flavour. The cereal is then ground in a mill so that it can be mixed with water.
Heated water is mixed in to extract the soluble sugars, after which the resulting hot, sweet liquid is drawn off and allowed to cool. Yeast is added and fermentation begins, creating a kind of beer.
This beer is then distilled twice to lower the water content and increase the concentration of alcohol and flavour. Distillation involves boiling the liquid in a large container called a still. This is usually made of copper. It is said that the “conversation between the copper and the liquid is the catalyst of flavour”.
The product of the distillation process is transferred to specially treated oak casks to mature for a minimum of three years before it can legally be called Scotch Whisky.
What's the difference between a Single Malt Scotch Whisky and a Blended Scotch Whisky? Or between a whisky, a whiskey, a bourbon, a Tennessee whiskey and a rye?
In its broadest definition, 'whisky' is a drink distilled from the fermentation of malt. Malt is any grain that has been allowed to germinate, particularly barley or rye, and then dried. The process by which it malt is made is called 'malting'.
Whether it is spelled 'whisky' or 'whiskey' usually depends on where it was made.
In Scotland, Canada, Japan and other parts of the world, it is spelled without the 'e', while in the US and Ireland it is more commonly spelled with an 'e'.
The main differences between types of whisky are down to three things: the grain used; the production process; where the whisky was made; and how long it was matured for.
A Scotch Whisky must be made from malted barley or grain with the spirit aged in oak casks no bigger than 700 litres for no less than three years. Whisky of one type or another is made all over the world, but to be called Scotch Whisky it must be made entirely in Scotland.
Single Malt Whiskey:
This is a whisky from a single distillery made using only malted barley, water and yeast.
Single Malt Scotch Whiskies traditionally come from five regions: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Island and Campbelltown. The different regions are famed for specific characteristics like fruitiness, freshness, maltiness and smokiness.
This is a type of whisky where the main ingredient is maize or wheat, or both.
A Blended Scotch Whisky is made by mixing together Single Malt Whiskies and Single Grain Whiskies. The advantage of blending is that it ensures the flavour and quality of the whisky remains the same time after time.
In an ‘age stated’ Blended Scotch Whisky, the age statement refers to the youngest whisky used in the blend.
This is any whiskey made in Eire (Republic of Ireland) or in Northern Ireland. Unlike Scotch, any malted cereal grains can be used in any proportion. Like Scotch, it must be aged in wooden casks for a minimum of three years.
Japanese whisky is usually made in the same way as Scotch whisky. It has been manufactured since the 1920s but has only become widely available outside Japan in the last decade.
American Style Whiskies:
Bourbon is an American whiskey made from malted grains that are at minimum 51% corn. The rules around what constitutes a bourbon are more relaxed than those for Scotch, but it must be made entirely within the United States to qualify.
This is a bourbon from one American state, for example Kentucky, that has been aged for at least two years and doesn’t have any additives, such as flavouring or colourants.
A blended bourbon can include other spirits and flavourings but must be a minimum of at least 51% straight bourbon.
This is essentially the same as bourbon. The only distinction is the inclusion of charcoal filtering in the post-distillation process.
Rye is primarily made in North America. In the United States, it must be fermented from a mixture of malted grains that is at least 51% rye. The rules around Canadian rye are much looser and they can contain far less than half rye.
Flavoured whiskies are, broadly speaking, whiskies with a single added flavouring but without additional sweetener. Popular flavourings include honey, spices and apple. Flavoured whiskies can be homemade or produced commercially as variants of some branded whiskies.
A whisky liqueur is, broadly speaking, any form of flavoured whisky with added sweetener, traditionally served as an after-dinner drink. Whisky liqueurs fall into two broad categories: those made with cream and those made without.
About Consuming Whisky:
What is the best way to drink Whisky?
There is no right way to drink whisky. Only techniques to make it an even more pleasurable experience.
- Choose your glass: A good, solid tumbler (a short glass with a heavy bottom) if you’re drinking your whisky neat, or with a little water or ice. For ‘long’ whisky drinks, use a ‘highball’ – a tall, slim, straight-sided glass
- Inhale the Aroma: A huge part of the flavour of food and drink comes from the way it smells – and whisky is no exception. Enjoying the aroma of whisky can be hugely rewarding.
- Take a Sip: Savour the flavour by allowing the whisky to roll over your tongue, before letting it slip smoothly down.
- Take your time: A good whisky will present a whole range of flavours and scents – many of which you may find familiar. The flavours experienced are unique to each person, with certain elements being stronger to some than others. Discussing the flavours, you discover with friends is one of the many joys of drinking whisky.
Whisky with Ice?
Adding ice to Scotch instantly makes for a more refreshing experience, but it can also significantly change the flavour profile as it dilutes the whisky. Chilling whisky has the effect of muting some flavours and enhancing others.
To find a balance that works for you, consider the amount, shape and size of the ice, as well as the measure of whisky. The more ice in the glass, the slower it will melt – and the impact will, of course, be greater on a single measure than a double.
Some people prefer to use a single, larger ice cube or even an ice ball to really slow the rate at which it melts. Another option is to invest in some whisky stones – made of metal or soapstone – to use as a replacement to ice. So if you like your whisky cold, but don’t want the effects of dilution – whisky stones may well be the right choice for you.
However, you chill your Scotch, the act of taking small sips and savouring each one will rapidly bring the temperature back up. As the whisky warms, the taste will evolve – allowing you to experience a broad spectrum of flavour.
Whisky as a mixer or cocktail?
The mark of a truly great whisky is its versatility. Combining Scotch with a mixer makes for a longer, more accessible drink – a fantastic way to ease yourself into the world of whisky, without compromising on flavour.
Some of the combinations of whisky is whisky and soda, whisky and tea (popularised in Asia) or even mix of whisky and coconut water which originates in the Caribbean.
Whisky as a commodity or investment?
Like most things in life there are connoisseurs and collectors. Liquor, specifically Whisky is no different.
According to Knight Frank (knightfrank.com/research/article/2020-04-16-knight-frank-luxury-investment-index-update-rare-whisky) (See image below) whisky is the best performing alternative asset in the world. It beats out serious competition such as Coins, Vintage Cars, Art, Wine, Diamonds, Stamps and Watches. The most expensive whisky ever bought is a Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old which sold for $1,528,800 at Christies in London on 28th November 2018.
Beside the bottle listed above there are other such whiskies that commend extreme value and appreciate over time. To track such moves in the market you can head to https://www.rarewhisky101.com/ where you will see indexes such as the one below.
Furthermore, it seems that an investment in Whisky is uncorrelation with the market according to a study done by Rare Whisky 101 and University of South Africa (knightfrank.com/research/article/2020-04-16-knight-frank-luxury-investment-index-update-rare-whisky).
At Malts and Things, we will strive to secure the best bottles in the world for you from an investment perspective but also from a perspective of someone who loves fine liquor. Whether that be a high-end bottle, an impressive yet unknown bottle or even something out of the ordinary.
With that information invest in something you love by viewing our range our products here at Maltsandthings.com. It is the best way to find a storied gift for a special person or simply store your money in an impressive item that you can marvel at!