I've noticed that whenever whisky is mentioned in the various chat/regs threads across the forum, it tends to generate a lot of interest, so what better place to start a Whisky dedicated thread for some interesting discussion on the greatest of all drinks (imho), than EDF? There is an old EDF whisky thread here
but it seems to have died out, so hopefully a new thread will revive some interest.
I intend the thread to include anything about all types and styles of whisk(e)y including tasting reviews, a place for people to show off their collection, a place for whisky newbies to find out what they need to know, distillery trip reports etc.
First, a quick primer on the basics....
What is whisky?
Whisky is made from just 3 ingredients - grain, water and yeast. The grain (malted barley in single malt Scotch, maize in bourbon) is fermented into a strong "beer", and this beer is then distilled. The resulting alcoholic liquid is then stored in barrels and matured for a period of years. See here
for more on the distilling process.
What defines a particular whisky?
Scotch whisky is, of course, whisky made in Scotland. To be called Scotch, it has to be matured for at least 3 years in oak casks (usually 2nd hand ex-bourbon casks), although most good quality Scotch is matured for a lot longer, usually at least 10 years.
Single malt is Scotch whisky made entirely in one distillery and using only malted barley. The taste of single malts differ markedly from distillery to distillery, and even moreso between the different regions of the country. Single malt is often considered the finest style of whisky available worldwide, although this is of course up for argument.
Grain whisky is made using a variety of (usually inferior quality) grains and is generally produced as a much more pure and characterless spirit than malt. It's main purpose is to be mixed with malt whisky to make Blended whisky. Although blended whiskies make up the cheaper end of the market, there are also some expensive and high quality blends available.
American whiskey -
The dominant style in the U.S. is bourbon, which is whiskey made from between 51-80% corn, with rye and malted barley typically accounting for the rest. (Some “wheated bourbons” like Maker’s Mark substitute winter wheat for the rye, and a few rare bourbons use both.) Tennessee whiskey, made famous by the Jack Daniel’s brand, has much the same ingredients as bourbon but is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before it is matured, significantly altering the character of the whiskey. American straight rye whiskey contains a minimum 51% rye, while straight corn whiskey contains at least 80% corn. (In recent years, other whiskey varieties have appeared in the U.S. as well, including straight wheat whiskey and various types made primarily from barley.)
Canadian whiskey -
The traditional Canadian style blends malted rye whiskey with corn and other whiskeys and neutral spirits. The result is softer and sweeter than many other whiskeys, but with the characteristic bittersweet spiciness of rye.
Irish whiskey -
Like Scotch, Irish whiskey is primarily made from barley, but rather than just using malt barley, the Irish traditionally add some unmalted barley before fermentation and distillation. Irish whiskey is also typically triple distilled, giving it a lighter flavor. The end result is a distinct but easy to drink whiskey, whether traditional “pure pot still” or blended with grain whiskey.
Other world whiskies are available, Japan being the most notable, which follows the Scotch model. Other countries that currently produce whiskey in much smaller quantities include Wales, England, India, Australia, France and Spain.
Who makes the best whisky? Well despite a huge amount of snobbery in the whisky world (usually biased towards Scotch), the true answer is that no one distillery or no one country makes the best
whisky. It's completely down to personal preference.
What is the best way to drink whisky? Straight? On ice? With a mixer? Well the correct answer is however the hell you like. You paid for it, you drink it how you like. If however you ask what is the best way to taste
whisky, then the answer is neat, at room temperature and with just a splash of still water added. The three basic components of tasting whisky are as follows:
- The appearance
Pour in a measure of whisky - about an ounce or a generous finger's breadth. Hold the glass to the light, or against a white napkin, and admire its colour, depth and clarity. New spirit is gin-clear; 20 years in sherry wood may turn the whisky the colour of treacle. Between these poles is a spectrum of hues.
The whisky's appearance should be a guide to how it has been matured, and for how long, since the colour comes from the wood. A very dark sherry will almost certainly have been matured in a first-fill oloroso cask; a very pale one suggests a third or fourth fill bourbon hogshead. Remember that unless you are drinking whisky which has been drawn from a single cask, a number of different casks (from three to three hundred) will have been vatted together.
To confuse the issue further, distillers are allowed to add small amounts of colouring (in the form of caramel) in order to ensure that each batch looks the same as the next. They claim this is tasteless; many people think otherwise.
- The nose
This is the sensation and aroma that you pick up from the whisky before tasting it. Important characteristics can be found and can indicate what the whisky will taste like. Pour a reasonable amount into the glass and swirl the whisky around for a short time, so as to allow oxygen to get to the liquid and evaporation to begin. This is important as the whisky has been trapped in a cask or a bottle for all of it’s life until this point and needs a little time to express itself and start to show it’s true characteristics. Take a note of the colour while you are waiting for these couple of minutes. Put your nose to the glass and breathe in, letting the aromas circulate around your nostrils. Repeat this three or four times and think about what the aromas remind you of – are they light, fresh, heavy, rich, fruity, floral, spicy, smoky etc? Try to predict what the taste of the whisky will be like.
- The palate
The flavour of the whisky on your palate is the most rewarding and enjoyable part of the whole process! The most thing is not to drink the whisky too fast (like a shot of tequila or similar spirit) and to savour it in your mouth so as to get the maximum flavour and benefit. Different parts of your tongue and mouth respond to different flavours and stimuli so pass the whisky over all areas of your mouth to gain maximum effect. Upon swallowing, there will be an alcoholic burn (which is one of the main things that puts a lot of people off drinking whisky) but it is important to let this pass as it is now that any whisky will reveal it’s true characteristics. Try to identify obvious flavours that are present and repeat, trying to identify something new each time. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers and everyone’s taste buds are different so don’t worry if you get a flavour that someone else doesn’t or vice versa.
- The finish
This is the after taste that comes once you have swallowed the whisky. Some people say that the complexity of the finish in whisky is what differentiates it from all other spirits. Once you get passed the alcoholic burn, then numerous flavours can reveal themselves, some of which can be extremely subtle. The list can be extensive but again try an relate the flavours and sensations to things that you have tasted in the past. Also, ask yourself whether the flavours remain for a short, medium or long time. This is called the length of finish.
There is more in-depth tasting information to be found here.