In recent years, there’s been a great deal of interest in whisky worldwide, and Singapore is no exception. Whisky is commonly served in nightspots here- from clubs to bars to even specialised tasting rooms.
You might even have had some yourself. Beyond the fact that it’s gold and tastes nice, there’s a lot more to whisky. Much more.
The first question that you might ask is:
That’s a simple one. Let’s ask Professor Wikipedia:
Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.
Right. That’s helpful, sort of. Here’s the “not-so-chim” version:[highlight color=”#FFFFFF”]Whisky is a fermented grain alcohol which is aged in wooden casks.[/highlight]
You might have seen “Whisky” and “Whiskey” and thought they were the same thing- and you’d be wrong. No one made a typo there. They’re actually slightly different drinks.
Whiskey is made in distilleries in the US or Ireland. Whisky is the same type of alcohol- made everywhere else except for the US and Ireland. Scotch is whisky that’s made in Scotland- and only Scotland.
Confusing? It gets better.
Types of Whisky
While the origins of whisky are shrouded by the fog of history, we do know that the earliest record of whisky was made in Ireland. Since then, many countries have started producing their own whisky- Most famously Scotland and the US. The types of grains that are used have also varied.
Scottish Whisky, or Scotch, comes from one of five major whisky producing regions in Scotland, all with their own distinct flavours and characters. The grain used in making scotch is usually malted barley, and it is usually distilled twice. By Scottish law, for a whisky to be called Scotch, it must be aged for a minimum of 3 years, though many scotches are aged for 10 years or more. Famous brands include Macallan, Glenfiddich and Johnnie Walker
Irish Whiskey is a whiskey made in Ireland. It’s similar to scotch, but is usually distilled thrice. Famous brands include Jameson and Bushmills.
Japanese Whisky is very similar to Scotch, except that it’s produced in Japan, and can’t legally be called Scotch. They tend to be sweet, light expressions and have seen a surge in recent years. Famous brands include Suntory Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu.
American Whiskey has many sub-types because of the different types of grains used. Rye, Corn, malt and wheat are commonly used in the production of Whiskey. There’s a particularly famous type of American Whiskey- the bourbon. These are usually made of 80% corn, with malted barley thrown in as well. To confuse things even more, there’s a special whiskey- the Tennessee Whiskey, which is Bourbon filtered through sugar maple charcoal – which gives it a distinctive sweet, smoky taste. Famous brands include Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark.
Canadian Whisky is similar to American Whisky, and is typically made of corn and rye. More popular brands include Crown Royal and Wiser’s.
Everything else- there’s now quite a few countries producing whisky, but in tiny amounts. Keep an eye out for Taiwanese, Swiss and German and other whiskies. They’re not well known right now, but in 30 years, who knows?
Blended or Single Malt? Single Grain? Huh?
A Single Malt contains whisky from only one distillery. The grains used in the whisky are all of the same type- be it barley, whisky, rye, or corn. If it is a Single Malt Scotch, the grain used is usually malted barley. (Hence “Single Malt”)
A Single Grain is a whisky made from only one distillery, but contains multiple types of grain (told you it gets confusing).
A Blended Malt contains Single Malts from multiple distilleries ( this number can be as high as 10 or more) that is mixed together to form the final product.
A Blended Scotch is a Single Malt mixed with other Single Grain and Single Malt whiskies. This is the most common type of whisky.
(from left to right- Single Malt Macallan, Single Grain Cameron Brig, Blended Malt Famous Grouse, Blended Scotch Johnnie Walker Black Label)
No kick la…right?
Whisky is typically 40% to 50% alcohol by volume(ABV), so you can expect a kick- a pleasant one.
What’s less known is that this is intentional. Many countries around the world regulate the maximum alcohol content, and the distilleries add water to a whisky cask so they can fulfil this requirement.
If that’s not enough to satisfy your taste, some distilleries produce cask strength whiskies. Those are about 60% to 65% ABV. The strongest whisky in the world is the Bruinladdich X4 with 90%(!) ABV. It might just burn a little bit going down.
Just to put things in perspective, a beer is about 5% ABV.
Whisky ages in the cask, where it slowly absorbs the tastes of the wood and develops some of its own. The day the whisky is stored in the cask, the distillers start counting. When the whisky is taken out of the cask and bottled, they stop. Whisky doesn’t age in the bottle, unlike wine.
While the minimum aging time is 3 years, whiskies are normally aged for 10 years or more. More of the wood taste goes into the whisky, slowly changing the flavour. In most cases, the flavour becomes richer and more intense. This comes at a price- each year, 2% of the whisky in the barrel simply evaporates (this is called the angel’s share). So, there is simply less of the more older whisky in the first place.
Most of the time, the older the whisky, the rarer and more expensive it is. When a blended whisky states its age, that’s the age of the youngest whisky in the blend.
Take note, age and vintage of whisky are different things. Since whisky doesn’t age (or improve) in the bottle, vintage refers to the particular year the whisky was bottled, not how long it has been aged.
I’m still confused.
Don’t worry too much about it. The finer points of whisky are something you can handle once you’ve spent a bit of time trying a few different drinks.
The real question that you might be asking: Is the type of whisky important? What should I be drinking?
The answer: it’s all up to you. Drink what you like. These guidelines are just that- guidelines. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy the whisky.
If you’re still curious, we’ll be writing even more about whisky in the future, so stay tuned!