Whiskey: thoughts and ramblings on the fine art of distillery


I hate to admit it, but I think I am a Pina Colada kind of girl. Give me a spoon of the hard stuff with lots of citrusy sweetness and I’m good to go. So when my Uncle Joseph called me over to drink my first scotch while visiting their house to borrow a cup of sugar, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The first taste went down pretty smoothly, or so I thought. It was heat in my throat all the way down my stomach. Then, when I exhaled, I went “Mmm” as the feeling of what is believed to be smokiness and sweetness escaped my breath. I took a second sip, and this time the bitter aftertaste seemed to have receded and the heat on my mouth was followed by this certain jolt of sweet satisfaction. Unfortunately, I had to return home and continue on my baking duties but I did pull out a mental note to find out more about scotch and why it left such a lasting impression on my mind, and obviously on my throat.

It is interesting to note how various self-proclaimed connoisseurs could never agree on the taste. Even my uncle calls it “smoky” but his wife calls it “straight up smooth.” So with curiosity creeping in, I finally decided to pull off a little whiskey research and here were some of the interesting facts that I have found out.

1. Whiskey hails from Ireland – and while my uncle would argue to his death that since only the Scots make the best one therefore they probably made the first one, I found out that it might be subject for argument, since Irish legend claims that whiskey was invented to keep their people from invading other countries. Though that mystery is yet to be solved, what is factual right now is that whiskey in Ireland is termed “whiskey” and whiskey in Scotland is called “scotch.”

2. Whiskey is that popular probably for the reason that it has some sort of divine intervention. Commonly called “angel’s share” or “angel’s tax,” this term is used to define the two to four percent loss of whiskey in the barrel every year due to evaporation. I guess that is obviously why whiskey becomes more valuable as time goes by. Talk about a new twist to scarcity.

3. Whiskey is in fact, beer. When distilling whiskey, they have to first make beer, and then have them distilled twice or thrice without the hops. Certain blends of whiskey are made using hops, depending on the region. However it is only in Ireland and Scotland that strictly do not.

4. Whiskey is basically made from three varieties, each with its own unique strength and taste. Three kinds exist with hundreds of variations to choose from. These three are single malt, single cask, and blended. Single malt is basically every connoisseur’s pet, and it is basically composed of purely malt whiskey, and then blended in different casks in a single distillery.  The single cask variation is more unique and expensive, for the fact that it is not blended and it is usually straight from the cask without any mix. It is quite rare but it does not mean it is immediately finer in taste. The alcohol content however, is much higher, as they are not mixed with water or any other element. Finally the blended kind is the most common of the three, with 40% coming from malt whiskey then blended with 60% grain whiskey. What make this variety popular are the different tastes one could come up from the blending process. Johnny Walker and Chivas Regal are well-sought out brands.

5. There are around seven regions that make whiskey. These are Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Tennessee, Kentucky, Japan, and New Zealand. Irish whiskey is distilled three times, using pure-malted barley as the grain. Malted Barley is dried in closed ovens, and is never exposed to smoke. Famous Irish whiskeys include Jameson’s and Bushmill’s. The Scots make their whiskey by drying barley over peat fire, giving their whiskey that smoky taste. Macallan and Highland Park are whiskey brands from Scotland. Canadian whiskey is distilled any number of times using malted rye as the grain, and it is the number one imported spirit in the United States. Tennessee is the proud maker of Jack Daniels. Kentucky is the home to the famous bourbon, the whiskey that tastes just a bit sweeter over the rest.

In Old Gaelic language, whiskey means “water of life” and although my citrusy taste buds tell me otherwise, I have come to have a deeper respect for this spirit. It is a class of its own and yet very real in nature. Even my Uncle Joseph laughed when I suggested putting ice on it, saying that true whiskey must be appreciated as it is. It tastes exactly what it wants to be tasted and it does not hold any pretentions in its raw strength. I might be a shallow Pina Colada girl till I grow old but now I would not mind taking that third sip anytime soon.


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