You have had an excruciatingly long day, and all you want to do is kick back with a glass of something fuzzy and strong. You get back home and realize that a glass of beer just won’t do. In a flash, an idea strikes. You need that warm, rugged hug that only a tumbler of whiskey can offer. Vodka is for rookies and beer is for your college days, but whiskey is forever. Be it neat or on the rocks, mixed with water or something sweet, there is a whiskey for every mood and every occasion. So let’s take a cultural and educational tour into the great and magnificent world of whiskey. Consider this your whiskey education- a whisk-cation!
What is Whiskey?
Whisky (or whiskey) is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage. It is made from fermented grain mash that includes combining a mix of milled/powdered.
Different varieties of whiskey use various grains, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. These grains may or may not be malted. Malting the grains implies germinating or sprouting the grain, by wetting them, and then drying them in hot air to prevent further germination. Whiskey is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.
The word whiskey (or whisky) is an Anglicisation of the classical Gaelic word “uisce” (or uisge) which means “water”. Distilled alcohol was known as aqua vitae (“water of life”) in Latin. This was then translated to classical Gaelic Irish as uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic as uisge beatha meaning “water of life”.
Whiskey vs. Whisky
There has always been an argument about whether the spelling is “whiskey” or “whisky”. Well, there are two views about this: One is that the spelling depends upon the regional practice of the language. That means that it depends on the target audience, the writer’s personal preference, etc. The other is that the spelling should depend on the style or origin of the spirit in question. To put it more simply, the spelling whiskey is common in Ireland and the United States, while whisky is used in all other whisky-producing countries.
CHRONICLE OF EVENTS
So, how did it all begin?
Distillation of alcohol can be traced back to as early as the 13th century. Eventually, it spread to Ireland and Scotland. Although there is some debate about it, most scholars believe that the Irish began producing whiskey before the Scotch. By the 13th century, the Irish began producing distilled extracts from grains and aging them in oak casks. This resulted in an orangish liquid, with temporal flavours which we now call whiskey. Irish whiskey was very popular in the early eras, but the decline began after the 19th century political and economic crisis.
The earliest Irish mention of whisky comes from the 17th century, in Scotland – the first evidence of whisky production comes from 1494, where the king ordered ‘aqua vitae’ to be made, enough for about 500 bottles.
In these early eras, whiskey was not allowed to age. This made it taste very raw and extremely harsh, unlike the whiskey we drink today; and over the years, whiskey has evolved into a much smoother drink.
Aging is a very crucial aspect of whiskey production. Followed by distillation, it is aging that gives whiskey the lavish taste and the enhanced flavours of the region it hails from. In fact, the age of a whiskey is the duration between distillation and bottling. Therefore, an old bottle of whiskey might only be a rarity and not necessarily better. Whiskey acquires better taste and quality depending on the number of years it has been aged for. This duration is at least two years or more. Whiskey is aged in huge wooden casks, typically oak, that is bound by metal or wooden hoops. It is this wood and the time spent in it that gives whiskey its specific character and makes it the smooth, malty beauty it is.
Types of Whiskey
Whiskey is normally differentiated on the basis of base product, alcoholic content, and quality. The major types are:
American whiskey is made with pride and flavours distinct to America. It is made from distilled fermented mash of cereal grain. Bourbon whiskey, corn whiskey, malt whiskey, wheat whiskey, rye and malted rye whiskey are all the different types of American whiskey.
Bourbon is the most popularly consumed American whiskey. It is named after the famous Bourbon County but is produced in other states including Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado. Bourbon is made using corn in the mash and thus has a sweeter taste. As per the rules, corn must be at least 51% of the grains used. It must be aged in charred new American oak casks for at least two years, which gives it a spicy caramel flavour and exalting aroma.
Rye whiskey must be made with at least 51% rye, which creates the difference between bourbon and rye whiskey. Bourbon has a sweeter taste, while rye has a more bitter flavour, and is smoother. Thus, rye whiskey was more preferred to be used in cocktails. Even today, modern mixologists have brought back the practice of using it, to honour the trade’s past.
Tennessee whiskey is often confused to be bourbon. The difference is in the making of the two – Tennessee whiskey is filtered through charcoaled maple chips before aging. This process is known as the Lincoln County Process and this is what gives it its peculiar nature. Jack Daniel’s is an example, but is mentioned here because the old JD has become synonymous with Tennessee whiskey. It is the signature black sticker, the universal straight shot and the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of whiskey.
Any whiskey that has aged and hails from Ireland is Irish whiskey. Irish whiskeys are normally distilled three times. There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland: single malt, single grain, blended whiskey and pure pot still whiskey.
Irish whiskey must be distilled at least thrice, and aged for no less than three years in wooden casks. As mentioned before, they are mostly believed to be the first to begin producing whiskey. Unfortunately, the 19th century’s decline damaged the industry so much, that from the count of thirty, Irish distilleries went down to only three! Regardless, there are still numerous fans of Irish whiskey who adore the smooth and mild spirit.
Scotch whisky, popularly known as Scotch, is malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland. The Scotch have transformed the whiskey world with their unique styles and regional variants. Scotland is the only place to find authentic and original scotch whiskey.
Be it the saline and smoky flavours from Islay or the soft floral-sylvan hints of the Highland, there is a scotch for all your needs. There are three popular varieties of scotch: single malts, blended malts and grain whiskies. Scotch whiskies mostly use barley, which is conventionally malted. It is aged in oak casks for not less than three years.
Highland scotch will give you flavours that will drench your mind with the taste of honey. The flavours of this rocky province are very sublime and are famous for its single malts.
Islay Scotch has a unique flavour of smokiness merged with salty zest, which is a result of using peat.
Don’t you feel enlightened? Now that you have a fair amount cultural information about it, you will probably look at whiskey in a new light, with a brand new appreciation. Those winter nights always call for a glass of malted smoothness which only whiskey can provide, and delivers a feeling that is both rigorous and classy.
It’s time to pour you a vat because everybody deserves a little bit of whiskey-loving.