But for those of you who don’t know a thing about Whisky – I’m here to help.
So pull up a comfy chair, grab a glass (and maybe a cigar) and listen in. With my Rough Guide to Whisky below you’ll be able to “Wow” your friends/colleagues/spouse with your new found knowledge of what some believe is the most sophisticated beverage one can imbibe. For some people, to have a knowledge and understanding of fine Single Malt Whisky is to have made it in the world – you are a sophisticaed gentleman/lady and you know how to appreciate the finer things in life.
In Europe, Spain along with Italy and France – plus the Scandinavian Countries – have some huge Whisky fans, as well as very knowledgeable consumers – eg. They know the difference between a Single Malt and a Blended Whisky. And they will probably know where a whisky comes from and where whiskey (with an “e”) comes from.
Well, do not fear if you don’t know the above differences. Or what “non-chillfiltered” or “added caramel” means – I’m about to explain. If you do then feel free to jump ahead a bit.
Now, basically whisky is made from water, malted barley and yeast. Nothing else. The colour and most of the flavour comes from the barrel the alcohol is put into after it is distilled. In order to call it whisky it must be kept in a second fill barrel – eg something used to be in the barrel beforehand – normally bourbon or sherry – and kept in that barrel for at least 3 years before being bottled. However, it is normally stored/”matured” for longer. In order for it to be called “Scotch Whisky” it needs to be matured in Scotland. There are a lot more legal issues surrounding Whisky but I wont bore you.
Every year during the maturation the whisky normally evaporates about 2% a year. Thus, when it comes time to bottle it there is a lot less in the barrel than when it was first put in – let’s say 10 years ago. Hence, the older the whisky the more expensive it is. Some distilleries may lose over €1 million worth of whisky due to evaporation a year. This is known as “the angels share“. The same thing happens with sherry here in Spain.
Then when the time comes to bottle the whisky it must not be less than 40% proof – to still be called whisky. Quite a common practice is to bottle the whiskystraight out of the barrel – known as “cask strength“.
Now, I hear you asking – but what does “non-chillfiltered” mean? I know you have been dying to learn. Well basically, some distilleries filter their whisky after it has come out of the cask and before it is bottled. This removes some fats from the alcohol that sometimes turn cloudy – which puts some consumers off because they think something is wrong with their whisky. This process prevents the whisky from going cloudy but actually can remove some of the flavour from the whisky. However, there is now quite a strong movement against this by more knowledgeable consumers.
Another “trick” that some distilleries use is adding a type of caramel to their whiskies in order to make them appear darker in colour. Many people think that:
This is a complete myth – do not fall for it.
This added caramel is only meant to darken the colour of the whisky and not meant to affect the taste at all – the whisky industry is adamant that it does not alter the taste but I’m not too sure. Imagine you have two glasses of water. One with this carameladded to it and the other is just plain old boring water. I bet you a bottle of whisky that the one with the caramel would taste sweeter!
The colour all comes from the wood so generally a lighter whisky will have been aged in bourbon barrels and a darker whiskywill have been matured in sherry casks.
So now we have whisky and we have glasses and we have poured ourself a dram (or two) it’s time to drink…!
NEXT POST: Nosing and Tasting…!