Let’s start off with the basics:
Whisky vs Whiskey:
- Whisky = Scottish only
- Whiskey = Everyone else
Single Malt vs. Blended:
- Single Malt = 100% Barley. Distilled at one distillery and then matured and bottled. Made using barley
- Blended = Mix of Barley and Wheat/other grains. Made up of whiskies that have been produced at different distilleries and normally of different ages. They are blended to develop a smoother and more complex drink.
Did you know that whisky is beer without the hops? The basic ingredients are water, barley and yeast. The difference also comes in after the fermentation process (see more below) where the fermented liquid would be brewed into beer or distilled to make whiskey.
Traditionally there are 5 stages of the Whisky making process:
- Malting (Barley undergoes germination until it starts to shoot. It is then transferred into a kiln which is powered be peat. The flavour of the initial spirit is influenced by the peat smoke and length of drying. The Barley is now malt)
- Mashing (Malt is ground down and soaked in warm water to extract the soluble sugars. Sugars in the malt are drawn off through the bottom into a mash tun resulting in a liquid called wort. This process is repeated 3 times.)
- Fermentation (Wort is cooled and passed through into wash tanks – either wood or, nowadays, stainless steel. The Yeast is added and fermentation begins, where the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol.)
- Distillation (Scotland: distilled twice, Ireland: distilled 3 times traditionally. The wash is heated in the still (by coals, gas or steam), the liquid rises up until it reaches the neck and then condenses into ‘low wines’ which is then passed through a second still where the alcohol produced is split into 3. *Stills are made from copper and extracts impurities from the spirit that rises up to the neck at the top. Different shape stills give different character & flavour. Taller stills with longer necks have a finer, lighter spirit. Shorter, fatter stills have a fuller, rich spirit)
- Maturation (The alcohol is matured in oak barrels and stored for a minimum of 3 years. Whiskey picks up the flavour and colour from the barrels as they are previously used barrels from American Bourbon or Sherry barrels. The flavour of the whiskey is also developed from the wood, given each one unique characteristic. The area of the distillery also adds to the end product characteristics, for example in the highlands or near the sea etc.)
This simple infographic from The Whisky Wash is great: https://thewhiskeywash.com/whiskey-styles/american-whiskey/the-whisky-distillation-process-in-one-simple-infographic/
Or watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR7Bt9Ei_zI
WHISKEY TASTING: HOW TO
Components that go into whiskey tasting, which you can have for a home whisky tasting with some friend or family!
First, try the tasting with the whiskey neat, and then do it again but add a little bit of water. The water releases more flavour and complexities of the whiskey (and a less alcoholic taste).
- The Glass: Use a glass with a narrow opening as this will channel and concentrate the aromas of the whisky towards your nostrils.
- The Nose: Aromas of the whiskey.
- How to Nose your whiskey? -Pour the whiskey into the glass, swirl it around a bit and leave it for a short time to allow for evaporation. Tilt the glass slightly and put your nose to the glass and sniff in through your nostrils. Repeat this 2 or 3 times to get a better idea of the aromas. Are they light, fresh, heavy, rich, fruity, floral, spicy, smokey?
- The Palate: Savour the whiskey, do not swallow it straight away. Sip it and swirl it around in your mouth before swallowing it. Enjoy the flavour on your taste buds and then swallow.
- The Finish: The after-taste, the flavour once you have swallowed it (after the alcoholic burn)
*Fun Fact: When adding water to a Non-filtered whisky it will go cloudy. Give it a try at home with a chill-filtered or non-filtered whisky