Scotch Whisky (no –ey unless you're referring to Irish or American Whiskey) has always intrigued me. Single malt, or single distillery, Scotch, such as Laphroaig's 10 year old is full of rich smoky peat scents. But then, if I try and take a sip neat (i.e. straight, no water or ice), its power punishes my throat and sinuses (picture the classic M*A*S*H episode with Radar taking a shot, wheezing and then hoarsely proclaiming it to be, "smoooth.").
There are a number of Whisk(e)y styles:
- Irish Whiskey
- Canadian Whisky
- Bourbon Whiskey
- Tennessee Whiskey
- Rye Whiskey
While production methods differ somewhat from region to region, the general Whisky recipe starts off with malt (commonly barley or rye based), which is akin to the starter for your sourdough recipe. For example, barley is malted by allowing the grain to germinate – this releases enzymes that convert starch into sugar. The malt is then often dried, often over peat burning fires (hence the smoky peat scents in your glass of Scotch). The dried malt is then soaked and partially dissolved in water. This produces something called wort. Yeast is added and the fermentation commences. At a relatively weak alcohol level (~ 5%) the wort is moved to a still and readied for multiple distillations.
Malt whisky is distilled in pot stills, while grain-based whiskies are distilled in Coffey stills. After distillation, the baby whisky is aged in 'seasoned' barrels – depending on the region and style. For example, Scotch Whisky is aged in used sherry barrels that have been charred on the inside. Then the producer waits 10, 15, even 40 years. Just as in wine, aging causes whisky to evolve secondary aromas and flavors. Although, at upwards of 40-50% alcohol, flavor maturation might not be readily detectable. But then I could be wrong; I am no Whisky connoisseur – just a Whisky experimenter.
I am indeed curious to hear from any Whisky lovers out there about what they look for and how they evaluate their distilled treat.
If your whisky curiosity hath been piqued, check out this nifty blog - The Scotch Blog.