The es­sen tials of whisky

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A good whisky is like a great friend: itʼs com­plex and re­fined, with a great per­son­al­ity, a smooth talker with a fiery pas­sion for life and leg­end.

Whisky has been around for cen­turies, first dis­tilled in Ireland and Scot­land by monks for medic­i­nal pur­poses un­til Henry VIII es­tab­lished the dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies in the 16th cen­tury. The am­ber liq­uid thatʼs monikered “aqua vi­tae” (Latin for wa­ter of life) is a gen­eral term for liquor that is dis­tilled from fer­mented grains. How­ever, it cov­ers a broad range of coun­tries and grain types, from rye, ce­real to bar­ley.


Whisky is split pri­mar­ily into two cat­e­gories: malted and un­malted. The process of malt­ing, which de­vel­ops sug­ars in the grain, gives malted whiskies greater sweet­ness for the fer­men­ta­tion process to work with, that also gen­er­ates dif­fer­ent flavours.

The vari­a­tions that fol­low are blended or single distillery bot­tling. Blended whiskies are mixed from dif­fer­ent dis­til­leries, and tend to com­bine both grain and malt whiskies, though there are blended malt or blended grain whiskies, as well as single malt or single grain types. The pur­pose of blend­ing, as Colin Scott, mas­ter blen­der at Chivas Re­gal ex­plains, is to of­fer “greater com­plex­ity and flavour in the prod­uct. Single malts are purer in the sense that they con­vey the ex­pres­sion of the distillery. From the min­er­al­ity of the wa­ter to the malt­ing and fer­ment­ing process, these de­ter­mine the style of whisky pro­duced. Blended whiskies are ex­pres­sions that are cre­ated by a mas­ter blen­der to give struc­ture to the whisky by mix­ing styles from var­i­ous dis­til­leries.”

Whisky vs Whiskey

A con­ve­nient way to dis­tin­guish be­tween the two: coun­tries with 'e' in their spell­ing use whiskey, while those without an 'e' stick to whisky.


A glass full of ice with a shot of whisky does it poor jus­tice. Pour­ing a dram into a glass gives you much more in­for­ma­tion at a glance.

COLOUR The colour of whisky in­di­cates the type of casks it has been aged in, and hints at its flavours. Lighter shades sug­gest an Amer­i­can oak cask and deeper am­ber tones sug­gest Euro­pean oak. The former gen­er­ally offers lighter and smoother flavours of vanilla, cream and cit­rus. With Euro­pean oak casks, richer flavours of caramel and dried fruit come forth.

NOS­ING While the tongue can dis­tin­guish be­tween sweet, sour, salty, bit­ter, savoury and tex­tures, the nose re­calls thou­sands of scents by as­so­ci­a­tion. In­dulge in a whiff first.

MOUTH­FEEL Take a sip and roll the liq­uid around your tongue to garner the full range of flavours it offers. Ad­ding wa­ter (no more than an equal part) breaks up the mol­e­cules within the whisky and en­ables you to taste the more sub­tle flavours within the dram. Fi­nally, the lin­ger­ing flavours tell you how long itʼs been aged. Older whiskies and Euro­pean oak cask whiskies tend to have a longer fin­ish.


To un­der­stand con­nois­seur-speak, here are some use­ful terms to get fa­mil­iar with.

An­gel’s shareAs whisky ages in the bar­rel, some of it nat­u­rally evap­o­rates into the at­mos­phere. This amounts to around two per cent of the bar­rel each year, which is re­ferred to as this.

Bar­relAlso re­ferred to as the cask, this is the con­tainer that whisky is aged in. Barrels are al­ways made of Amer­i­can or Euro­pean oak.

Cask strength­Whisky, as a stan­dard with all spir­its, are bot­tled at 40 per cent al­co­hol by vol­ume. Cask strength whiskies hold a per­cent­age of al­co­hol from the bar­rel it­self, usu­ally above 40 per cent.

Fil Barrels in whisky age­ing are of­ten re-used, as they re­lease dif­fer­ent amount of tan­nins and vanillins over the years of use. First-fill casks are those that are used to fill whiskies for the first time, and so on. Bour­bon whiskey uses only new oak casks.

Stil Dis­til­la­tion takes place in cop­per stills, which are pri­mar­ily in two shapes: col­umn or pot stills.

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