Whether it’s an ex­plo­sion of peat for your hipflask or a di­verse dram in the pub af­ter­wards, a day’s shoot­ing wouldn’t be the same with­out a nip of Scotch whisky. An­drew Flatt presents an in­for­ma­tive guide to an iconic tip­ple for novices and con­nois­seurs

Shooting Gazette - - This Month -

Why find­ing the per­fect whisky for your post-shoot en­joy­ment needn’t be dif­fi­cult. By An­drew Flatt.

The pro­duc­tion of Scotch whisky has re­mained much the same for the past 200 years or so. The process has be­come more stream­lined and ef­fi­cient, but it is ba­si­cally the same as it was when first pi­o­neered.

‘Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor where­with to make aqua­vi­tae’ is the old­est writ­ten ref­er­ence to whisky, found in the Scot­tish

Ex­che­quer Roll for 1494.

The engi­neer­ing is es­sen­tially the same wher­ever whisky is dis­tilled, but it is the vari­a­tion in dis­till­ing tech­niques, equip­ment and mat­u­ra­tion that makes for such a di­verse range of flavours and styles in the fin­ished prod­uct.

Pro­duc­tion process

Sim­ply put, whisky is es­sen­tially an al­co­holic spirit made by the dis­til­la­tion of a grain mash. There are five stages to the pro­duc­tion process. Malt­ing: the bar­ley is par­tially ger­mi­nated and ground down. Mash­ing: the sug­ars are ex­tracted from the bar­ley, by the ad­di­tion of hot wa­ter, to form a so­lu­tion. Fer­men­ta­tion: the ad­di­tion of yeast then turns the sug­ars into al­co­hol.

Dis­til­la­tion: the al­co­hol is ex­tracted by heat­ing up and then cool­ing the fer­mented liq­uid.

Mat­u­ra­tion: the spirit is placed into oak bar­rels and left for at least three years.

The Scotch Whisky As­so­ci­a­tion have set some very strict rules as to what can con­sti­tute Scotch whisky: it must be made and bot­tled in Scot­land, be a min­i­mum of 40% abv (al­co­hol by vol­ume) and be ma­tured for at least three years in oak casks.

Tra­di­tional re­gions

With Brexit loom­ing, there is cur­rently much dis­cus­sion and de­lib­er­a­tion by the Euro­pean Union

re­gard­ing the geo­graphic pro­tec­tion af­forded to Scotch whisky.

Scot­land is di­vided into five tra­di­tional re­gions in terms of whisky pro­duc­tion, recog­nised by the Scotch Whisky As­so­ci­a­tion.

Low­land: light and flo­ral. Ex­am­ples in­clude Glenk­inchie and Blad­noch.

High­land: a large re­gion with a di­verse flavour of whiskies, in­clud­ing Clynel­ish, Dal­more and Glen­morangie.

Spey­side: honey, fruity and light. Glen­fid­dich, The Glen­livet and Cardhu are pop­u­lar choices.

Is­lay: smoky and phe­no­lic (think TCP). Clas­sic dis­tillers in­clude La­gavulin, Laphroaig, Ard­beg and Bow­more.

Camp­bel­town: peaty, briny and pow­er­ful, high­lighted by the whisky pro­duced by Spring­bank and Glen Sco­tia.

Tra­di­tion­ally, each re­gion pro­duced a dis­tinc­tive style of whisky, but com­pa­nies are now ex­per­i­ment­ing with new meth­ods and casks, blur­ring the dis­tinct flavours that once di­vided the re­gions.

There is an ar­gu­ment, which I tend to lean to­wards, that there should be a sixth geo­graph­i­cal re­gion, which would en­com­pass dis­til­leries on Scot­tish is­lands, apart from Is­lay. Is­land dis­til­leries, such as Ar­ran, Jura and High­land Park, are cur­rently placed within the High­land re­gion.

There is also an on­go­ing and rea­son­able ar­gu­ment that geo­graph­i­cal re­gions are ir­rel­e­vant in the mod­ern era, some­thing I will touch on later.

Most of the re­gional dif­fer­ences come about purely as a re­sult of the vary­ing to­pog­ra­phy and ge­og­ra­phy of Scot­land, rather than any dif­fer­ences in the whisky pro­duc­tion. The best ex­am­ple of this is the heav­ily-peated and phe­no­lic notes found in whisky pro­duced by Is­lay dis­til­leries. The most plen­ti­ful fuel these dis­til­leries have to burn dur­ing the pro­duc­tion process is peat, which gives the whiskies their unique flavour. Other ar­eas use wood or coal to fire their plant, which im­parts a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter en­tirely.

Nowa­days, there are dis­til­leries from all over Scot­land us­ing peated bar­ley. Dis­til­leries such as To­matin and Glen Mo­ray pro­duce lim­ited quan­ti­ties of peated whisky ev­ery year, which brings us back to our ar­gu­ment about the ir­rel­e­vance of the tra­di­tional re­gions.

Types of Scotch

There are five dis­tinct types of Scotch whisky.

Sin­gle malt: the prod­uct of a sin­gle dis­tillery, cre­ated from a mash of malted bar­ley.

Sin­gle grain: the prod­uct of a sin­gle dis­tillery, made from a mash of grains other than malted bar­ley.

Blended malt: a blend of two or more sin­gle malt Scotch whiskies.

Blended grain: a blend of two or more sin­gle grain Scotch whiskies.

Blended Scotch: a blend of sin­gle grain and sin­gle malt whiskies.

There is a great deal of snob­bery in the whisky com­mu­nity to­wards blended and grain whiskies. Blended malts were orig­i­nally de­signed to smoothen the ex­tremes of char­ac­ter found within sin­gle malts, mak­ing them more palat­able and ap­proach­able for the ev­ery­day drinker. It is worth not­ing that around 90 per cent of whisky sales world­wide are of blended whiskies. They are of­ten seen as ba­sic, per­haps lack­ing the com­plex­ity and char­ac­ter of sin­gle malts, be­ing made up of var­i­ous malt whiskies, with ex­am­ples in­clud­ing John­nie Walker, De­wars and Bal­lan­tines.

Some blends may be made up from recipes of 40 or more dif­fer­ent com­po­nent whiskies, usu­ally con­tain­ing a higher pro­por­tion of grain whisky than malt.

Grain whiskies tend to have an un­fair rep­u­ta­tion as the sin­gle

malt’s poor cousin, as it is much eas­ier, quicker and cheaper to pro­duce, of­ten mak­ing up the bulk of a blended scotch.

Typ­i­cally a blended scotch will con­tain 60-80 per cent grain whisky. It is worth ac­knowl­edg­ing that this grain el­e­ment can give real flavour and tex­ture to blended whiskies. A good, well-aged sin­gle grain whisky is a great dram in­deed. Sin­gle grain whiskies such as Carse­bridge, In­ver­gor­don and Port Dun­das are all well worth look­ing out for.


Scotch whisky must be ma­tured in oak casks. These casks come from a va­ri­ety of sources, but most are bour­bon casks from Amer­ica, as they are plen­ti­ful, due to rules gov­ern­ing bour­bon pro­duc­tion in the United States, whereby the casks can only be used once.

Bar­rels can be used mul­ti­ple times in Scot­land, but the more they are used, the less im­pact on the flavour of the fin­ished prod­uct - think of the first time you use a tea bag com­pared to a sec­ond or third time.

Some whiskies are ma­tured in sherry casks, which help to im­part an­other di­men­sion to the flavour, adding a richer, spicier taste.

Less com­mon whiskies are fin­ished in red wine, white wine, port or rum casks, each hav­ing its own unique flavour.

It is im­por­tant to note some im­por­tant ter­mi­nol­ogy. Whiskies that have spent their en­tire mat­u­ra­tion in a cer­tain cask are said to be ‘cask ma­tured’. If they have only been ‘cask fin­ished’, they have per­haps only spent a few years or months in a new cask, af­ter be­ing trans­ferred from an­other. As a re­sult, cask-ma­tured whiskies will have taken on much more flavour from the casks than cask-fin­ished ones.

One of the first, if not the first, dis­til­leries to ex­per­i­ment with cask fin­ish­ing is The Bal­ve­nie – its Dou­ble­wood ex­pres­sion spends al­most 12 years in bour­bon casks be­fore be­ing trans­ferred into sherry casks for a few months, help­ing it to take on ex­tra flavour.

Its im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the age stated on the bot­tle is the min­i­mum age of the whisky in­side. I know of sev­eral 10-yearold whiskies that use a quan­tity of 12-year-old whisky in the mar­ry­ing process. If a tiny amount of a fiveyear-old whisky was cou­pled with a 50-year-old whisky, then it would have to be sold and ad­ver­tised as a five-year-old.

Neat or mixed?

Is it ac­cept­able to add any­thing to your whisky? In my opin­ion, and that of many oth­ers, it is more than ac­cept­able to add a lit­tle (a few drops or per­haps a tea­spoon) of wa­ter. Most whiskies, es­pe­cially those bot­tled at what is re­ferred to as ‘cask strength’ (up to around 60% abv) will ben­e­fit from a few drops of wa­ter, to re­duce the al­co­hol con­tent and re­lease the flavour.

For the same rea­sons that red wine is more flavour­some at a room tem­per­a­ture, I feel whisky is bet­ter with­out ice, al­low­ing the dram to breath and de­velop in the glass. How­ever, if you pre­fer your dram with a few cubes of ice, then that’s per­fectly fine. You pay your money for it, so you should be able do what you like with it, whether it's adding ice, cola, green tea or gin­ger beer. Dur­ing this year's hot sum­mer, I’ve prob­a­bly drunk more than my fair share of whisky and soda.

To get a full ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the drink, though, you must first try to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate it in its orig­i­nal form.

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