5 Things You Need to Know About Whisky

5 Things You Need to Know About Whisky

Written by: Melanie Parker

Whisky can be daunting for the novice, but once you discover the sensory experiences of this captivating drink with all its many faces, you will awaken to its eternal allure as one of the world's greatest dark spirits. Trust us. Take a sip. Whisky is life.

#1 Whisky means water of life.

Whisky is life and life whisky. At least that's what the Irish and the Scots will have you believe. The name is a derivation of aqua vitae, Latin for 'water of life'. In Gaelic or Old Irish, this translates to uisce beatha. Whisky is simply an anglicised version of 'uisce' because let's face it, nobody can pronounce Gaelic, let alone spell it. Apologies to all the Niamhs and Siobhan's we know and love, which is a nice segue into the spelling of whisky or is that whiskey? It was originally whisky, such as in Scotch whisky, but the Irish decided they needed to differentiate from the Scots, their greatest competitors in the whisky market, so they added the 'e'. It was pure marketing at its best. The American followed suit except for Makers Mark; there's always one. It chooses not to because of paying homage to its Scottish heritage. That's the art of marketing full circle!

#2 Whisky is distilled beer.

If you love your beer but haven't discovered the joys of whisky yet, ponder this fact for a moment - fundamentally, whisky is distilled beer. Whisky is made from fermented grain mash. Different styles use different grains which can be malted, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. After yeast is added to the mash to commence the first stage of fermentation, a wort is produced that is basically beer at 8-9% abv (alcohol by volume) before it is distilled at least twice and aged in oak barrels or casks on its way to becoming an excellent bottle of whisky.

This is Single Malt like you have never seen it before. It is first brewed as an artisanal American pale ale from scratch using locally malted barley, yeast, and slow, low-temperature fermentation. It is then distilled twice in custom low-reflux copper pot stills designed to transform the flavourful ale into whiskey. It then goes through a maturation period in low char American oak barrels before it is mingled in small batches to become this deliciously complex whiskey with Westward's signature balance and boldness.

#3 Whisky has many faces.

So many styles and not enough days in a life to drink them! Whisky is so diverse. It ranges from Single Malt to Single Grain to Blended, Rye, Bourbon and Tennessee. Then there are regional styles such as Japan's world-class award-winning whisky, Canadian whisky, and not forgetting yours truly, Australia is pulling out the big oak casks too.

This Japanese whisky is aged in Mizunara, a special oak tree native to Japan. Mizunara trees take 200 years to mature, making Mizunara Cask Whisky a sought-after Single Malt Japanese Whisky. Kurayoshi The Matsui is one of the world's most awarded whiskies. Carefully crafted with sweet mineral water from the volcanic mountain of Mt. Daisen, it delivers distinctive mild spicy grapefruit and oak characters from the quality malted barley matured in the unique Mizunara oak casks.

A Single Malt crafted in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales is an expression of distiller John O'Connor's love for the rugged mountain beauty of the place. His Ironbark Red Single Malt, with its warm characters of chocolate and vanilla, is aged in Australian native Ironbark Red creating a complex, sweet and subtle malt spirit that flows with delicious ease across the palate.

#4 Scotch is from Scotland.

First of all, Scotch comes from Scotland. Whisky is made all over the world but can never be called Scotch. Scotch is made predominantly from malted barley, water and yeast. Single Malt Scotch whisky is the pinnacle of whisky production in this part of the world. It is a whisky produced at one distillery where place and centuries of experience combine to craft drams of subtle flavour and distinction. As the name suggests, Blended Scotch is a blend of malt whisky and grain whisky. Irish whiskey is usually triple distilled with unmalted barley blended with grain whiskey and without the peat traditionally used in Scotch, so it is lighter and exceptionally smooth in taste. Irish whiskey is an excellent place to start for whiskey newcomers. The Americans love their whiskey with a hardcore devotion; Prohibition made them realise how much. Great American whiskies include Bourbon, distilled from 51% corn giving it a sweet and rich caramel, vanilla palate, Tennessee whiskey, which is Bourbon from Tennessee is charcoal filtered following the Lincoln County Process so exhibits toasty charcoal flavours. Then there is Rye whiskey, a spicy whiskey, light in texture and flavour distilled from a minimum of 51% rye.

First opened in 1966 with six large stills, Tamnavulin released its first Single Malt under its own name in 2016 and today they are one of the premier Speyside distilleries. This Double Cask Single Malt Scotch is a contemporary style, aged in American oak for a sweet, mellow taste then finished in European sherry and red wine casks to impart fruit and nut nuances to this elegant whisky with a buttery smooth texture and medium finish.

This Double Barrel has 'sucked the marrow' out of two casks, one previously used for Bourbon and Oloroso sherry. The Bourbon barrel contributes sweet smooth vanilla notes while the Oloroso adds layers of dried fruits and nut characters. The whisky is aged for nearly four years in Ireland's mild maritime climate, enhancing the complexity of this delicate Irish dram. Did we mention it won Sustainable Distiller of the Year in 2021, Double Gold in San Francisco in 2021 and Category Winner at the World Whisky Awards in 2021? Get a bottle quick. This one will not last.

#5 Neat or not, there are no rules.

This is where whisky gets interesting. As if whisky wasn't interesting enough. Like Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, some like it neat, neat, neat. Straight up is for those who want to experience the subtlety and nuances of a really good dram; that's what the Scots call a nip. Say it like Sean Connery for impressive effect. The real whisky fanatics insist a dram needs to be served at room temperature, which is 16 to 18 degrees Celsius for most people, but if you are near the equator, you might need to add a couple of ice blocks and make that a dram on the rocks. Other experts say you can't fully appreciate a good whisky unless it has a splash of water to release its full aroma and flavours. As for the vessel, a tumbler with a heavy bottom is a good choice but again, for those who really want to nose their whisky, then a tulip glass or wine glass with a tapered neck channels and concentrates the aromas for full effect. If you are new to whisky and the thought of neat sends shivers up your spine, then add a mixer and ease your way into the acquired flavours of whisky. Or try a whisky-based cocktail such as the very fashionable Whisky Sour or the Don Draper favourite, the classic Old Fashioned. There are no rules. Have your whisky your way.

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