For people that are not familiar with it, whisky can be a source of great intrigue, confusion and sometimes even chagrin for some that fail to understand. The world of whisky is quite comprehensively expansive. There are many different unspoken rules and regulations, myths and beliefs, traditions and restrictions.
Whisky lovers revel in their paradoxical pursuit to know everything there is to know about whisky. The truth? The more you know about whisky makes you realize the more there is to know!
But there are some basic facts, methodologies and explanations for the uninitiated who are curious, and want to enter a whole new world. Ask any whisky lover and they will tell you three things you will definitely learn when you start drinking whisky – it is rewarding, it is expensive and it is worth it.
Is it whisky or whiskey?
We had to begin with the most simple, and oddly the most confusing question. Even the most seasoned whisky lover can make an error at times. So whisky or whiskey – which one is correct?
In fact, they both are. The Irish and the Americans choose to spell it ‘Whiskey’ with an ‘E’, whereas nearly all other whisky producing countries of the world prefer ‘Whisky’. That includes Scotland, India, Japan, Canada, Australia and many more.
Why? There are no particular reasons except maybe the need to differentiate themselves from the other. The Irish and Scottish are neighbours, and things can get quite competitive as we know it. Perhaps the world unknowingly joined a diplomatic battle that those two guys began!
What the hell are Scotch and Bourbon? Are they different?
While Whisky, or Whiskey is the more general term used to refer to the spirit we love and treasure, some parts of the world prefer to add another distinction in order to stand out. So the Scottish chose to call it Scotch whisky, and no other country on Earth can call their whisky ‘Scotch’.
Mr. Jack Daniel added another step to the ‘Bourbon’ process, and chose to call it ‘Tennessee Whiskey’. The extra step is called the Lincoln County Distillation
The Americans chose to call their whiskey, Bourbon. Why? LITERALLY NO ONE CAN SAY FOR SURE. But they do, and that’s what they prefer.
If Scotch is from Scotland, and Bourbon is from America, what is whisky from other parts of the world called?
Whisky makers from other parts of the world really didn’t think too much about it we guess. The Irish simply chose to call it Irish whiskey, and the Canadians and the Japanese did the same by assigning their respective nationalities to the whisky.
The Indian whisky-makers simply chose to call it whisky. Perhaps they were too busy enjoying the fruit of their labour which would explain why India consumes more whisky than any other nation in the world!
4. What are the different types of whiskies?
If you thought knowing Scotch, Bourbon and Irish, and whisky and whiskey was all there was to know, you have been deceived dear unsuspecting future whisky lover. There are many, many different types of whiskies, but they can broadly be categorized in the following manner.
The Glenlivet is one of the best single malt Scotch whiskies in the world
Single malt whisky – Distilled from malted barley, and nothing else. Distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery only. What is matured? Filling up an oak barrel with whisky and letting it interact with the wood for years and years, and years!
Single malts are often mistakenly perceived as superior to other types of whiskies. They are good, but there is lots of other good stuff out there too. The Glenlivet,
Aberlour and Longmorn are some great single malt Scotch brands. Amrut single malt from India, and Yamazaki and Yoichi from Japan are examples of single malt whiskies from other countries.
When two or more single malts are blended, it is called a ‘blended malt whisky’. Blended malts are less commonly made, and sold in the market.
Single grain whisky – Distilled from any other kind of unmalted grains. Distilled, matured and bottled at a single distillery. These type of whiskies are less commonly made today. Strathclyde makes some great single grain Scotch whisky, whereas The Chita single grain whisky from Japan is also a good release. A blend of two or more grain whiskies is known as a blended grain whisky.
Blended whisky – In Scotland, this means a blend of two or more malt and grain whiskies. This is the most widely sold type of whisky throughout the world. Blended whisky can mean different things in different countries. In Scotland, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s and Johnnie Walker are some formidable blended Scotch whisky brands.
While Japan follows a similar method as Scotland, in India, blended whiskies are often malt or grain whiskies blended with locally distilled grain, or neutral spirits. In America, Canada and other countries, the term is even more loosely defined and can differ from brand to brand.
Blenders Pride is one of India’s finest blended whiskies
The Irish blend their whisky differently too! Popular Irish blends such as Jameson are created by blending grain whiskeys with pot still whiskeys. The Irish also produce ‘single pot still, single malt and grain whiskeys.’
You see what we meant when we said it can get confusing? The whisky ecosystem is vast, and each distiller, and each country create their whisky differently. This is what makes it such a heterogeneous, and richly layered industry.
What is the right way to drink whisky?
So this is a tricky question. Since the purists always insist there is no other way but to drink your whisky neat, whereas some insist you should always add ice. Some say adding some water is fine, whereas some cannot think of drinking whisky without a mixer like ginger ale, or even cola!
So what is the right way to drink whisky? HOWEVER YOU WANT TO. Just enjoy your whisky.
What is whisky made from?
Whisky is made from three things – water, yeast and grains (such as malted, or unmalted barley, wheat, corn, or rye). No flavours are allowed to be added to whiskies in any country, region or part of the world.
Why do whisky drinkers hate cocktails?
People that take their whisky neat are often found at loggerheads with the cocktail lovers – A futile argument, and a waste of time according to The Whiskypedia. Time that could otherwise be well spent, drinking more whisky!
It is true that to appreciate a whisky fully, you must drink it neat, or with a few drops of room temperature spring water. That way you can get to know all the aromas, flavours and really delve deeper into every aspect of the whiskies journey from grain, to spirit, to barrel to bottle. Whisky develops a lot of character throughout that journey, and it’s a story waiting to unfold through your senses.
How do people ‘taste’ whisky? I only smell the ethanol!
Relax guys! It takes a while. ‘Nosing’ the whisky, and tasting it requires the right tools and the right technique. A Snifter glass, bulbous at the bottom, and narrow towards the top, is the perfect glass for it. Swirl the whisky in the glass slowly, and bring it closer to your nose. Close your eyes, and inhale the wafts that come through.
Then, take a small sip and swirl it around on your tongue. Whisky truly is an acquired taste, and one learns to appreciate it much like the more decadent human indulgences such as blue cheese, caviar, sushi or even coffee for some. You will find the depths of flavours and aromas in your whisky if you close your eyes, and really get to know it.
Does whisky have any calories?
Excellent question. Yes whisky does have calories but nothing to worry about. If you drink 50ML of whisky, you are consuming around 110 calories. Now that is an average, but it doesn’t hurt to check the label or the brand website for more accurate information.
What type of whisky should I begin with?
So you have decided to stick a toe in, haven’t you? For a beginner, some truly excellent options of mild, pleasant whiskies could be The Glenlivet 12 Year Old single malt, or the Chivas Regal Extra blended Scotch.
You could also try the Longmorn Distiller’s Choice single malt, the Aberlour 12 Year Old single malt. These are all excellent Scotch whiskies that you will definitely enjoy.
If you are sceptical, and wish not to invest too much in the endeavour, we suggest the Ballantine’s Finest blended Scotch, 100 Pipers Deluxe blended Scotch or the Jameson Irish whiskey. Among the Indian whisky brands, you could go for Amrut Naarangi, which has a well-defined citrus orange flavour profile that beginners could love to savour.
That covers our list of some of the most basic questions most non-whisky lovers often have. If you are considering joining the international madhouse of whisky enthusiasts, The Whiskypedia would like to say two things to you – Welcome, & Cheers!