Having read up on our little whisky guide Part 1, you are now ready to start brushing up your whisky knowledge even further. With this instalment you’ll be able to hold an intelligent conversation on the subject of whisky, and show off your superior knowledge.
So read on to delve into the fascinating history of whisky, and to discover more about the whisky distilling process.
A wee bit about the history…
The Gaelic word for whisky is uisge beatha, which actually means ‘water of life’, and whisky has pretty much been enjoyed in Scotland since time immemorial. What really helped it to take off on the world stage though, is the fact that in the mid-19th Century a parasite destroyed wine crops across Europe (it was actually known as The Great French Wine Blight!). A bad thing for wine and brandy lovers for sure, but a good thing for distilleries which neatly stepped in with their whisky.
By the time the wine industry recovered, whisky already had a firm hold with fans throughout Europe and further afield. Sorry brandy…
How is whisky made?
Basically it all starts with barley, which is then malted to ferment it before being dried out in large kilns. This dried and malted barley is then ground into powder (otherwise known as grist), has hot water added, and is filtered out to make wort. (In case you’re wondering what happens to the filtered out powder, it’s not wasted – it goes to make cattle food!).
Yeast is added to the wort to ferment it more, and eventually this is filtered and re-filtered to make a spirit. It’s still not whisky though – it needs to be aged in a barrel…
It’s all in the barrels
Oak barrels are what help to give whisky its unique taste, and since maturing a fine whisky takes years, a good quality barrel is essential. Usually a whisky is aged in an oak barrel that previously held sherry or American bourbon, and it is these barrels that help to impart the unique flavour.
So now we’ve had a bit about the styles of whisky and its history and production, look out for our scheduled part 3 to discover the main Scottish whisky-producing regions.