A few whisky facts to get you on your way to becoming a whisky aficionado! Whisky is produced from cereals (grain), yeast and water. The grain is milled, warm water is added, then the yeast, and the wash, as it is called, then begins to ferment. After a day or two fermenting, the beer-like wash is distilled into a colourless spirit, and then vatted for maturing in an oak cask. In the USA the cask is American White Oak, which is charred on the inside to form a thin layer of charcoal. The whisky or bourbon is then matured in the cask for a minimum of 2 years. After bottling the spirit, the cask is then shipped over to Scotland for maturing Scotch whisky.
Whisky does not age in the bottle.
Once bottled the whisky should keep for at least 20 years if left unopened. Once opened, the whisky may begin to oxidize after around 6 months.
Scotch whisky is normally bottled at around 40 – 43% alcohol by volume (ABV), after being diluted with natural spring water from around 60% ABV in the cask. Some whiskies are sold as cask strength, indicating the spirit has not been diluted. Often these whiskies are also marked as non-chillfiltered, meaning the whisky has not undergone the process of chilling to remove the fatty acids. Many whisky aficianados believe this removes some of the flavour. An non-chillfiltered whisky may become slightly cloudy on adding water or ice.
How should whisky be taken?
Our recommendation when tasting whisky is as follows: Observe the colour – this can range from almost gin-clear, through chardonnay, to light gold or deep amber. Swirl the whisky around the glass – note the legs or tears as the spirit flows back down the glass.
Nose the whisky, from around 10cm at first, then from the glass. Don’t inhale too deeply, just enough to nose the various delicate aromas through the spirit – is it sweet, fresh, malty, honeyed, spicy, herby, floral, perfumey, smoky, rubbery?
At this stage you may like to taste the neat spirit. Don’t let anyone stop you. Then add a drop of water (around 20 – 30% by volume, this is referred to as releasing the serpent. Now nose it again. How does the water affect the aroma? Does it improve or not? Notice other aromas coming through in layers. Some whiskies improve while standing, others lose their aromas rapidly, some even take a turn for the worse!
Now take a generous sip, and feel the whisky in your mouth. Does it have a pleasant mouth-feel – is it buttery, waxy, oily? Try to identify the flavours on your taste buds, then swallow the spirit and feel the finish. It should impart a pleasant, warm sensation as it goes down. Does it have a long, spicy, finish? A short, sharp attack? Some whiskies have a long, sustained finish, while others die within seconds of swallowing.
Ice or a mixer?
When tasting whiskies, it is standard practice to drink them with a drop of water, or sometimes even neat. How you drink them is up to you – in a tasting glass or tumbler, with ice, water or a mixer – as long as you enjoy the experience.