Whisky has long been the equivalent of taste and class. In pop culture, only the most refined of characters consume whisky. It’s been featured in many award-winning films, including Inglorious Basterds and Lost in Translation. Perhaps the best thing about this spirit is that it’s available in a wide range of varieties. Differences within the ingredients and production process will create a completely different experience with the whisky, from colour, taste, and strength. It can be a little overwhelming trying to get to know whisky, so we’ve put together a guide of everything you need to know.
Whisky in its essence
Going back to basics, whisky is a type of liquor made of fermented grain mash. Once distilled and aged, whisky can contain an alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage of 40% or more.
Various grains are used in whisky. These include barley, wheat, rye, corn, or a combination of any of these.
Whisky’s etymology has Gaelic origins, and is actually representative of how the liquor has been perceived through time. “Whisky” is derived from the Gaelic word “uisge,” simply meaning “water.” It’s often referred to as the water of life.
How did whisky come about?
This sweet liquor has a history as rich as its flavors. It began when European monks migrated to Scotland and Ireland, bringing with them the technique and knowledge of distillation.
The invention of whisky started out of a lack, confirming that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Once settled into their new monasteries, the monks realized that there were no grapes or vineyards around to make wine. All they had access to was grains, and so they made do with what was available to them.
As the monks continued to perfect their whisky recipe and share it with the community, the spirit became known as “aqua vitae” – Latin for water of life. The first record of aqua vitae was in 1494, when whisky became so popular that King James IV ordered Friar John Cor to make batches of aqua vitae using malt that the king himself provided.
During the reign of King Henry VIII in England, the monasteries were disbanded, ridding the monks of their distillation facilities. They began to produce whisky independently to try to make money. Around the same time, colonists from Europe began settling in America. These colonists had already been familiar with distillation for years, and they brought this knowledge with them. Whisky became so popular that at one point, it was a currency during the American Civil War!
As whisky widened its scope of influence, many began to figure out ways to produce the liquor at a much lower cost. Distillation technologies were adjusted, and with time updated, until whisky production became what we know it as today.
“Whisky” or “whiskey”?
Alcohol enthusiasts may have noticed that “whisky” is usually spelled two different ways, with an “e” and without an “e.” Is there a difference between the two spellings, or can they be used interchangeably?
What sets the two spellings apart are the regions in which each spelling is used. “Whisky” without an “e” is used in whisky-making countries outside of Ireland and the United States. Irish whiskies, and those produced in the United States such as bourbon, are spelled with the “e.”
Different types of whisky
Whisky varies depending on grains used, region of distillation, and how long it’s aged. For an in-depth breakdown of all the different kinds of whisky, check out this article ‘Get Familiar With Different Kinds of Whisky’
Here are just some of the various whiskies available today:
- Bourbon whiskey
- Irish whiskey
- Single malt whisky
- Japanese whisky
- Blended whisky
How to enjoy whisky
How one drinks whisky depends greatly on preference. However, here are a few tips from Georgie Bell, global brand ambassador of Craigellachie, a renowned single malt brand.
Clean your palate beforehand
In order to appreciate the complex flavors of whisky, it’s a good idea to clean your palate before you taste. Bell advises taking a sip of chilled water.
Much like the art of wine tasting, the nose plays an important part in the whisky-tasting experience. Bell recommends tipping your glass towards your nose and taking short sniffs, while also keeping your mouth open.
While doing this, you get a tiny taste of the whisky. Try to identify some of the flavors you’re picking up. Common whisky flavors include:
- Fruity notes
Take a sip
Once you’ve gotten a good whiff of the whisky, it’s time to take a sip! Here are some things to consider while you let the whisky sit:
- What flavors are you catching?
- How does the drink feel in your mouth? Is it smooth, or does it have a slight tang to it?
- Is the whisky on the sweeter side? What kind of sweetness are you detecting?
- How long do the tastes last on your tongue after swallowing the drink?