What Is Whisky/Whiskey?

A lot of people have had the chance to try whisky, but how many actually know what whisky is and where it comes from? Perhaps you want to know more about this beautiful drink?  

Whisky has a rich, vibrant history. This article will cover a lot of the basic elements about whisky, so if you would like to find out more, read on below.

For some, whisky can be quite an intimidating drink. With so many styles and flavours out there in the world, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, this really doesn’t have to be the case. With a little bit of knowledge, the amazing world of whisky can open up to you, and you can begin to enjoy the delights it has to offer. 

The first documented mention of whisky was in Scotland back in 1494. But to get to this point, knowledge of fermentation had to be developed over thousands of years, being passed from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The end result of this journey is an exquisite, dark distilled spirit, made from grains and aged in wooden barrels. Now whisky is made all over the world, to see some of the finest that is on the market, you can visit our collections on this page.

 

What is Whisky Made From?

You would not be the first person to ask, what is whisky made from? As with so many things in life, the actual process might look quite simple, but in reality creating a deliciously deep whisky is extremely difficult. The masters of the craft spend years developing their skills and knowledge is passed down through generations, refining and perfecting the art of distillation. 

There are a lot of variations on whisky, with different techniques and ingredients going into the liquor to create the unique taste. We will go into more detail about this further down the page, but to begin with, there are three main ingredients in whisky. These are water, yeast, and cereal. Two more extremely important factors are wood and time. Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.

  • Water
    • The type of water used in whisky is vital to the success of the drink. The water must be pure and cold. Water is so important in this process, that a lot of distilleries chose their site to be near their water source. 
  • Yeast
    • Yeast is what creates alcohol. It turns the starch and sugars from the cereals into alcohol and adds a flavour into the process as well.
  • Cereal
    • Depending on the type of whisky that is made, the cereal will vary. If scotch is being created, then malted barley is used in the process. However, if we are creating a bourbon, then corn is added.

 

Where does it come from?

In this modern age, whisky has become a global drink, with people producing it around the world. Some of the biggest and best countries in whisky production are Scotland, Japan, America, Australia, Canada, France, and Taiwan

Historically, if we are asking where does whisky come from? There is a clear lineage that we briefly mentioned above. To add more detail to this, when the Romans created their empire across Europe, they passed the knowledge of distilling onto the Gaelic and Celtic tribes in the north of the continent. However, this understanding was mainly based around creating wines. Grapes did not grow well in the colder climates of northern Europe and the inhabitants there were forced to try the techniques on different ingredients.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, a lot of this information was lost and was only kept alive within monasteries. It hasn’t been confirmed, but it is argued that a Christian missionary monk brought this knowledge to the Scottish Highlands, where the drink we know and love was refined over hundreds of years.

Whiskey vs. Whisky vs Bourbon, What is the Difference?

There are three main types of whisky, which we will explain below:

Whiskey

Whiskey with an ‘e’ is from Ireland. However the spelling isn’t the only thing that differentiates the two. Irish whiskey doesn’t use much peat, generally speaking, this means there is less smokiness. It must be distilled three times and be matured for a minimum of three years. America has also embraced the term ‘whiskey’.

Whisky

Whisky without an ‘e’ is from Scotland. Peat is widely used in a lot of scottish whiskey, meaning there is often a smokiness present in the taste to varying degrees. Further defining points that make a Scotch whisky are a three year minimum maturation period within an oak barrel, production must be done in Scotland, and a single malt must be made from 100% malted barley. Countries such as Canada, Japan and Australia have also coined the term ‘whisky’.

Bourbon

Bourbon is a whisky that originated in America. However, not all whisky is bourbon. It is created from a mash that has a main ingredient of corn. For whisky to be called a bourbon the percentage of corn in the mash must be 51% or more. Alongside this, the mash must be distilled below 160 proof, new oak barrels of 125 proof or less must be used to store it and there cannot be any additives in the mixture.  

There is no minimum ageing requirement for bourbon, however a ‘straight bourbon’ must be 2 years or older. Taste wise, there are a large variety of bourbons out there, however some of the most common notes are vanilla, oak and caramel. If more wheat is used in a bourbon mixture, then the taste is often more mellow and soft.

 

Whisky’s From Around the World

There are so many incredible whiskys distilled the world over. Each region brings a unique style and flavouring that creates some incredible experiences. Below we’ve outlined two of our favourite regions from around the world.

Scotland

Scotland is the home of whisky and within Scotland there are five Scotch Whisky regions. The differing areas, Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and Speyside all bring their own traditions to the craft, creating some of the best and most sought-after drinks in the world. To view our collection of Scottish Whisky’s click here.

 

Japan

Japanese whisky follows in the Scottish tradition, wherein there is a double distillation of barley, which is then aged in wood barrels. In fact, a large amount of the big Japanese distilleries import their ingredients from Scotland. Despite this, there are some distinctly unique elements to Japanese Whisky that make it so sought after. There is a refinement, sophistication, and elegance to Japanese Whisky that has been allowed to flourish because they are not burgeoned by the traditions of their culture, like in Scotland. This means there is a lot of room for innovation and development. As such, there are some incredibly sophisticated flavours to be sampled. You can view our selection of Japanese Whisky here.

 

Characteristics of Whisky

The world of whisky can be a very opinionated one, with many people stating exactly what a ‘good’ whisky has to be. While opinions differ depending on who you might ask, there are three main elements that are used to describe the differing aspects of whisky; these are taste, colour, and smell. However, there are further ways that you can refine your descriptions with, if you so please.

Above, we have explained that there are many different types of whisky, so the experience and characteristics can be hugely varied from bottle to bottle. It is a matter of understanding what tastes, colours, and smells appeal to your particular pallet. 

Finer whiskey will not have any reference to a straight ‘alcohol’ taste that some of the cheaper blends can be overwhelmed by. Instead, a proper whiskey will have a deep, complex flavour profile that will keep you discovering more with every sip. It is one thing reading about these elements, but only with experience will you begin to understand how they work and the interplay between them.

 

Taste

Describing the taste of whisky involves a few different elements. Providing a brief overview, you could use either round, robust, or soft. A round whiskey has a balanced feel, where the mouthfeel, flavour and aromas all work equally together. A robust whisky has a powerful taste, where there is an intensity to what you experience. If a whisky has more subtleness to it, it can be described as soft. Other notes to consider when tasting are these: sweet, spicy, fruity, floral, briny, smoky / peaty. If you can pinpoint one of these elements, the flavour profile can then unfurl itself.

 

Colour

All whisky is brown in colour, but there is a lot more nuance when differentiating between types. To begin with, we could use these descriptors: gold, amber, mahogany, honey, straw, and copper. If we want to go a step further, we could add that the colour is one of the following: light, bright, warm, medium, or deep.

 

Smells

Smell is very closely linked to our taste. To get the proper aroma from a whiskey, place the palm of your hand over the lip of the glass and softly swirl the whisky around for a few seconds. Once this is done, bring your nose to the glass and softly inhale. Are there any elements that spring out? Similarly to the tasting section, you can use a lot of those descriptors here. Remember these first impressions and then repeat the process and see if there are any developments to what you can detect.

 

How to Serve Whisky

There is not one ‘best’ way to drink whisky, despite what some people may tell you. Some whiskeys have been developed with a particular way to be consumed in mind and it is important to be respectful of that. However, it is about finding the right whisky for the moment and serving it correctly.

A whisky doesn’t always have to be neat, or with a splash of water, or served in the later evening. Pigeon-holing the drink diminishes the potential whisky has. Some whiskeys are great to drink straight, while others lend themselves perfectly to mixing in a cocktail. Below we’ll cover some of the basics of how to serve whisky. 

Before we move on, there is a point to make that to properly respect a drink, it needs to be served in the right glass. Beyond the basic function of holding the liquid, a glass has two main purposes; these are to increase the aroma of the beverage and to keep the drink at the correct temperature for as long as possible. So while you can certainly drink from your favourite mug, to properly get the experience of the drink, you should try and match it to the correct glass.

Below we will cover three elements of serving whisky: as a cocktail, an after dinner beverage, and on the rocks.

 

Serve in a cocktail

A whisky cocktail can be a fantastic way to develop an understanding of the complex whisky tastes, without having to dive headfirst into a neat drink. Two classic whisky cocktails to try out are a whisky sour and an old fashioned. For both of these drinks, bourbon is the most widely used spirit.

When serving whiskey in a cocktail, traditional recipes will use ingredients that will emphasise the characteristics of the particular whisky. In general, some flavourings that you will often find in whisky cocktails are ginger and citrus, like orange.

 

Whisky as an after dinner beverage

An after dinner drink is often referred to as a digestif, called this because it is thought to help aid the digestion of the meal just consumed. In Europe, the digestif is almost thought of as another course to the meal, a final way to extend an enjoyable evening and help to ward off bloatedness. In this capacity, whisky excels itself. The high proof of a whisky helps to get the stomach enzymes working to break down the food.

We can recommend the Michel Couvreur Overeaged whisky, as well as Togouchi Single Malt Japanese Whisky as an after dinner beverage, to help finish your evening off in luxury.

 

Whisky, on the rocks

Perhaps one of the most popular ways to drink whisky, ‘on the rocks’ means that the whisky is poured straight over ice. Many people believe this is one of the best ways to drink a finer whisky. This is because there are no other flavours mixing with the drink to detract from the original taste, as long as the ice water doesn’t dilute the drink too much.

Finding the right whisky to drink on the rocks will take a bit of experimentation, we can recommend Backwoods Wild Rye Whisky and Sortilege Prestige whisky as a starting point.

Shop Premium Whisky from Spirits of France

The depth, history, and complexity of whisky has made it a favourite drink for so many people around the world. The traditions of the spirit are so deep, it is hard to do it justice in the small number of words that are written above. Hopefully the information we have distilled to you will increase your understanding and as such your enjoyment of whisky. 

If this has got you curious to taste some of the best whiskies on offer, we have an amazing selection for sale, from around the world and suited to every taste and situation. To browse our selection of whisky, go to this page.