WHISKY – AQUA VITAE – UISAGE BEATHA – THE WATER OF LIFE!
One of the most popular spirits in the world, the spelling Whisky is used in Scotland and all other whisky producing countries, whereas Whiskey is common in Ireland and the USA. The name comes from the Gaelic word uisce in Irish Gaelic, and uisage in Scottish Gaelic, and means “water”.
It’s distilled from fermented grain mash – the art of distillation had spread to Scotland by the 15th century. Although various grains can be used, including barley, corn, rye and wheat, almost all British whiskies are made from malted barley, and if only one grain is used, and is the product of one distillery, it becomes a Single Malt. Blended Malts are the product of a range of single malts from different distilleries, and Blended Whisky is made from a mixture of different types of whiskies.
The location where a whisky is made can have a huge bearing on its flavour, from the water source to the presence of peat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, and the barrel the whisky has been matured in, and for how long will also have an effect on its flavour – producers always use second hand barrels because the taste of virgin oak is too overpowering and not particularly pleasant – so the majority buy used Bourbon casks from America which are made from white oak and have been charred, but Madeira, Sherry, Port and all manner of other used wine barrels may also be employed, and even ale casks.
For something made from so few ingredients – three in fact – grain, water and yeast, whisky is an incredibly complex drink!
Although there is broadly speaking some shared characteristics in regional styles, it is impossible to pigeonhole areas of production, and there is some crossover in expression – for example, some heavily peated whiskies are produced outside of Islay, and some Scottish distilleries do triple distil some of their whiskies which is normally the domain of the Irish. However, for Scotch malt, the grain must be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks - the famous “Angels Share” is the amount of alcohol that evaporates from the casks during maturation.
Scotland is divided into five main malt whisky producing regions. In addition to these are The Island distilleries – so whether you preference is for smoky, delicate, light or rich drams, there really is something for everyone - Slainte!