A Guide To Buying Whisky
Whether served neat, on the rocks or even as an old fashioned cocktail, whisky is a drink that’s enamoured the world over for both its history and refined taste. Whisky was first produced over 1,000 years ago and was then introduced to America by its Scottish and Irish immigrants. It has since gone on to be produced all over the world, remaining incredibly popular amongst casual drinkers and connoisseurs alike.
While the spelling and indeed taste of whisky might differ depending on the country it’s produced in, what remains consistent across the globe is the enjoyment of this smooth, flavourful beverage. Here is our whisky buyers guide to tell you more.
Whisky: An Overview
Originating from the Gaelic phrase ‘uisce beatha’ which means ‘water of life’, whisky covers a broad definition of spirits but can be narrowed down to grain alcohol that has been aged. Traditionally, whisky is made from either corn, barley, rye or wheat or a combination of these four grains. Popular locations for producing whisky include Scotland, Ireland and America and Japan. Around 500 different whisky brands exist globally.
Whisky can normally be identified by the colour, which is much darker than other spirits. However, when first produced whisky is actually clear in colour, and it is only when it is aged in wood that it develops its distinctive orange-brown hue. The type of wood and how long the whisky is aged for affects not just the colour but the flavour of the whisky too. The ageing process ranges from an average of 3 to 50 years depending on the brand, as well as on the country the whisky is made in.
Popular Whisky Brands
Irish vs American vs Scotch vs Bourbon
Whisky is a spirit that is produced across the world, and as a result, is made from a variety of different methods. No two blends are the same, meaning there is a lot to discover whether you are a regular whisky drinker or if you usually prefer other spirits. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between Irish, American, Bourbon and Scotch varieties.
Irish whiskey is made from unmalted barley which gives a smooth flavour, often with a hint of vanilla. An official guide set out by the Irish Government has a 17-page document about what can and cannot be listed as Irish whiskey. As well as needing to be produced on the island of Ireland, Irish whiskey must be made from a “mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals”, in addition to being “fermented by the action of yeast”. The conditions are quite strict and also require the product to be aged for at least 3 years in wooden casks.
American whiskey is made from mashes with at least 51% of their stated grains (80% for corn) and must be produced within the United States. There are many types of American whiskeys including rye, rye malt, malt, wheat, corn and Tennessee. Bourbon is another popular type of American whiskey which we will cover in further detail below. Typically flavours of American whiskey include vanilla, toffee, oak and cinnamon. Such undertones give American whiskey it’s distinct sweet flavour.
To be called a bourbon, it needs to be at least 51% made from corn, with the majority of distillers using between 65%-75% corn. Another condition of bourbon is that it’s only produced in America, with a famous example being Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. Around 95% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky. The main difference between bourbon and whiskey is conditions around the mash which needs to be distilled at 160 proof or less, with the distillate being stored only in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less. Bourbon must also not contain any additives, which are sometimes added to influence the colour of the finished product.
Scotch whisky originates from one of six Scottish regions including Campbeltown, Highlands, Islay, Islands, Lowlands, and Speyside. Scotch is the most tightly regulated spirit in the world. The conditions include being matured in Scotland for at least 3 years in oak casts. For malt whisky, it must also be bottled in Scotland too. Like all whisky blends, the age of Scotch is listed on the front of the bottle, however, if it’s a blended Scotch the age refers to the youngest component. The flavour of Scotch is a mixture of malt, wood, honey, and smoke. The true flavours depend on the age of the Scotch and how long it is matured for.
Whisky Flavour Profiles
Whisky distillers and connoisseurs alike have categorised the taste into the following 8 flavour profiles:
Woody: New wood, old wood, vanilla, toasted
Winey: Oily, chocolate, nutty, sherried
Cereal: Cooked mash, cooked veg, malt extract, husky, yeasty
Fruity: Citric, fresh fruit, cooked fruit, dried fruit, solvent
Floral: Fragrant, greenhouse, leafy, hay-like
Peaty: Medicinal, smokey, kippery, mossy
Feinty: Plastic, sweaty, tobacco, leathery, honey
Sulphur: Vegetative, coal gas, rubbery, sandy
As the blends and distillery process varies significantly between brewers, the above adjectives help to narrow down the taste. If you are looking to shake up the whisky you drink, choosing a different profile may offer more pleasing results. Whisky’s vast flavour possibilities are just one of the reasons the drink is so popular.
Whisky is a drink that is steeped in heritage with every nation having their own distinct ways of creating, distilling and serving it. It is a beverage that is designed to be enjoyed slowly, as you take in the multitude of flavour hints that the wood has infused into the blend. Here at Bring Me Drink we sell a variety of whisky blends for you to discover and enjoy. Best of all, we deliver single or bulk orders straight to your door!