A newbie to whisky? No problem, we’ve got you covered!
If you’re a seasoned whisky drinker, you may be surprised you may not know some of the fundamental facts that are always good to know.
Here’s to a solid grounding of the water of life!
What actually is whisky
Whisky is a spirit made from water, grains – in the case of Scotch, mostly malted barley – and yeast, and aged in wooden barrels.
Types of whisky
There are four different types of whisky – Scotch, Bourbon, Tennessee and Rye. The difference between the four is a mixture of materials that's used with the mix, how they are filtered / distilled and, of course, the geographic difference of where they are made.
What exactly is Scotch
To be called Scotch, the whisky (spelled without the "e") must be distilled, aged for three years or more in oak casks and bottled specifically in Scotland.
Meaning of ‘whisky’
The term “whisky” comes from the Gaelic “uisgebeatha” or “usquebaugh”, meaning water of life.
Why two spellings – whisky or whiskey
Apparently, the rule behind this is that is there is an “e” in the name of the country of origin, then there will be an “e” in how they spell whisk(e)y.
Scotland, no E, so it’s whisky. Ireland, there’s an E, so it’s whiskey. America, whiskey and whisky. Japan, whisky. Canada, whisky. You get the point. No one is quite sure where it came from, but both are acceptable spellings.
Whisky regions of Scotland
There are no official Scotch whisky regions, but applying geographical boundaries is still a useful exercise for many and helps with differentiation. The six areas most commonly used regarding whisky are:
Of course, the characteristics that define these regions are less exclusive now than they were when the regions were established. Heavily peated whisky, for instance, doesn’t have to just come from Islay. That’s why some people are reluctant to apply geographical constraints when talking about whisky today.
Categories of Scotch whisky
There are six categories of Scotch.
Whisky distilled at a single distillery
Whisky also distilled at a single distillery but made from cereal grains rather than just malted barley
Whisky made from a mix of one or more Single Malts and one or more Single Grain Scotch whiskies.
A blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch whiskies from more than one distillery.
A blend of Single Grain Scotch whiskies distilled at more than one distillery.
Single Cask Single Malt
Whisky bottled literally from one cask of whisky that has been distilled at one distillery and matured until ripe for bottling.
By law, Scotch whisky must be matured in a cask for at least 3 years. However, when a bottle states an age, such as ’21 year old’, that means the Scotch is at least 21 years old. NAS (No Age Statement) Scotch won’t say how old it is, but it will still be at least 3 years old. Otherwise, it just ain’t Scotch.
Any age of Scotch can taste good. The number of years it spends in a cask doesn’t determine how good it will be, only what flavours will be present in the end result.
Scotch straight from the cask will be a higher ABV (Alcohol By Volume) than when it is bottled, unless it is bottled at cask strength, which is usually over 60%. Regulation says that Scotch must be over 40% to be Scotch, so anything over that is fairly typical, but around 40-46% is the norm.
How to drink Scotch
Scotch can be enjoyed in any number of ways; there is no one way to do it.
In Scotland and the United Kingdom, people often enjoy Scotch whisky with just a little water. Preferably, it should be Highland Spring water to bring out more flavours.
A lot of purists enjoy it neat, which is Scotch and Scotch only. No water, no ice, no mixers, just whisky.
You can drink it on the rocks, which is with ice.
But Scotch is a global drink and people in different countries also drink it in new and exciting ways.
In Spain, they mix it with cola. In Japan, drinkers consume it with lots of water and ice. In China, they enjoy it with cold green tea.
Some like whisky with mixers like soda water.
There are also some amazing whisky-based cocktails around, such as the Old Fashioned or the Whisky Sour.
Enjoy it however you want!
How to store Scotch
Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle. So, even if you keep a 12 year old bottle for 100 years, it will always remain a 12 year old whisky. As long as the bottle is kept out of direct sunlight, the Scotch whisky will not deteriorate, even if it is opened.
However, it is best to store your Scotch in a cool, dry place.