What does Batman put in his whisky? JustIce. That’s the problem with whisky puns, they’re always in pour taste... yep, this article is going to introduce you, (briefly!), to the wonderful world of whisky. Over the next few issues, we’ll look at the history, the different types of whisky, & some of the major whisky producers around the world.
As with gin & vodka, whisky shares its origins with them in the distillation of fermented grain, however it differs then by being aged in charred white oak barrels without the addition of adjuncts or botanicals. If you can recall my gin articles, we looked at distillation methods and its history back then, but as a brief recap, humans have been distilling aromatics & chemicals from the early 2-1BC, with the first recorded alcoholic distillations being in Italy in the mid 1200’s, & coming to Ireland & Scotland in the mid 1400’s. However the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world is the Old Bushmills Distillery, being a relative newcomer starting up in 1608. It was the introduction of the English Malt Tax in 1725 following the union of England & Scotland that saw the closure of many of Scotland’s whisky distilleries. Those that didn’t close went underground, distilling in the middle of night so as to hide the smoke from the stills and gaining its other moniker of moonshine.
Like rum, whisky gets its characteristics from the barrel it sits in, & the age of a bottle determined by the length of time it’s spent in them. Once it’s been decanted from the barrel, the aging process finishes, no further improvement to the taste or change of colours happens. The oak barrels perform in exactly the same way on grain spirit as they do with sugar spirit, with the charcoal removing the harsh alcohol edge, & the wood imparting both flavour compounds & colour. Some distillers will use barrels that have been previously used for other drinks, such as sherry, which give a further depth to the spirit.
Now, the eagle-eyed of you will note that I’ve swapped nonchalantly between whisky & whiskey. There’s no right or wrong to this, however it is generally accepted that in Ireland & the USA, whiskey is the preferred spelling, with whisky being used in all other whisky producing countries. This isn’t always the case though, there are some American distillers using whisky. Whatever you think the correct way of spelling is, don’t stress about it, just enjoy the drink! Until next time... Slainte mhor!
Rich - The Beer Emporium