Thursday, 19 September 2013

A Guide to Whisky... For the Non-Whisky Connoisseur

Whisky is Scotland's biggest export, and can possess a huge value for just one bottle, and a fine bottle at that... but do you understand the malt madness?

We are not trying to convert you to becoming a whisky connoisseur in a single blog, but just want to introduce you to some of the 'lingo', facts and history to help you appreciate the value of this fine Scottish produce.

Whisky distillation has been associated strongly with monks in Scotland from between 1100 to1300, as well as with our Irish friends making it difficult to determine the exact origin. However, although whisky is produced throughout the world today, it is strongly recognised that the Scots should be proud to be the best- of course!

 Whisky is from the Gaelic term 'uisge beatha', which means 'water of life!' It was originally used in the  medical field for the purpose of an internal anesthetic and an external antibiotic, and is still multipurpose today from curing toothache, to cooking or simply enjoying as a relaxing beverage hot or cold.

Scotch whisky, is one that has been wholly matured in oak casks in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years by a licensed distillery. Malt Scotch whisky is made from barley, water and yeast and follows 5 distinct stages:
1. Malting, to convert barley to malt.
2. Mashing, to produce wort from ground malt.
3. Fermentation, to produce a weak impure spirit walled wash, upon the introduction of yeast.
4. Distillation, to strengthen and purify the spirit in the wash and remove solids.
5. Maturation, to transform the raw spirit into whisky.

The main factors influencing the flavours and aromas of a Single Malt varying by distillery include; the barley, the water, the landscape (whisky allows you to detect particular heather, sea and mountains), the craft, and the oak cask.

The length of fermentation effects the overall flavour of the spirit; a short fermentation time (two days) tends to produce a nutty, spicy, flavour, but four days can help create a light spirit, and is one of the factors in delivering a smoother tasting whisky as well as its fruity flavours. Scotch whisky is typically distilled twice in copper stills. The size, shape and number of stills have a big influence on the taste, due to the spirit’s interaction with the copper. Generally, the more the spirit interacts with the copper in the still, the lighter the spirit. Maturation has a major impact on the final character of a Single Malt. The whisky is matured in oak casks to remove harsh tastes and to allow a variety of flavours and aromas from the wood to interact with the spirit. Sweeter and fruitier notes tend to be formed from European oak casks to produce a darker coloured spirit, whereas American oak tends to form sweet vanilla and coconut notes.

 It takes three years in the cask for the spirit to be legally titled as Scotch whisky, however classic malts need longer to develop the single malt whiskies that truly embody the locations from which they are come.

 There are four whisky-producing regions in Scotland. They are; Highlands, Islands, Lowlands and Speyside. They offer flavours that are hugely diverse:

Whisky Regions, lowlands, higlands, speyside, islands
The Scotch Whisky Regions

Highland malts, cover a variety within this region’s malt whiskies. Broadly speaking, these malts are warm and rounded with spicy notes.
Island malts, define whiskies from Scotland's islands. They use peat rather than wood as a fuel to malt barley. This smokiness is clear with a peaty nose and flavour to match.
Lowland malts, are fresh with floral and cereal aromas and have a lighter body and colour.
Speyside malts, are often complex, offering fruity and floral flavours with hints of green apples and citrus notes.

 On another 'note'... Irish whiskeys (notice the different spelling) differ from Scotch whisky because it is typically distilled three times and also it is uncommon for peat to be used in making Irish whiskey. This is thought to make a smoother, more approachable drink than many Scotch whiskies. The US whiskey industry has not got the same heritage as the Irish and Scottish industries. Approximately a third of American whiskeys are produced as bourbon. Bourbon must contain at least 51% American corn. The balance is made of a combination of malted barley, wheat or rye, and must be aged for at least two years in new charred America white oak barrels.

  McTear's is world famous for auctions of Fine & Rare Whisky, holding several world records in the sale of whisky. There is an international demand for the expertise of McTear’s specialist so the annual calendar has seen an increase from four auctions to ten. Our next Rare & Collectable Whisky, Wine & Port Auction is on Wednesday 9th October 2013- come along to show off your expertise!

 Keep up to date with us on Twitter and Facebook also... Cheers!

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