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A glass of whisky
Whisky or whiskey is a type of alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize . Most whiskies are aged in wooden casks, made generally of oak), the exception being some corn liquors.

Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many competing denominations of origin and many classes and types. The unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, and the practice of distilling the spirit down to a maximum of 80% alcohol for corn and 90% alcohol for other grains, prior to adding water, so as to retain some of the flavor of the grain used to make the spirit and prevent it from being classified as grain neutral spirits or vodka. Whisky gains as much as 60% of its flavor from the type of cask used in its aging process. Therefore further classification takes place based upon the type of wood used and the amount of charring or toasting done to the wood. Bourbon whiskey for example is legally required to be aged in charred new oak barrels, whereas quality Scotch whiskies often used the partially spent barrels from Bourbon production to induce a slower maturation time, adding additional subtle nuance.

With few exceptions, the spelling is Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese whisky (plural: whiskies), but Irish and American whiskey (whiskeys).

Etymology

Whisky is a shortened form of usquebaugh, which English borrowed from Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha. This compound descends from Old Irish uisce, "water", and bethad, "of life" and meaning literally "water of life". It meant the same thing as the Latin aqua vītae which had been applied to distilled drinks since early 14th century. Other early spellings include usquebea (1706) and iskie bae (1583). In the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise in 1405, the first written record of whisky appears describing the death of a chieftain at Christmas from "taking a surfeit of aqua vitae". In Scotland, the first evidence of whisky production comes from an entry in the Exchequer Rolls for 1494 where malt is sent "To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae".

History

The art of distillation originated in the East, being brought into Europe by the Moors in Spain, with perfumes and aromatics being distilled long before potable spirits. It is believed that the art of distillation was brought from the Mediterraneanmarker regions to Irelandmarker by Irish missionaries between the 6th century and 7th century, and that the necessary skills were brought to Scotlandmarker by missionary monks who settled in the west of Scotland.

Types

Whisky or whisky-like products are produced in most grain-growing areas. They differ in base product, alcoholic content, and quality.

Malted barley is an ingredient of some whiskies.
  • Malt is whisky made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still.
  • Grain is made from malted and unmalted barley along with other grains, usually in a continuous "patent" or "Coffey" still. Until recently it was only used in blends, but there are now some single grain scotches being marketed.


Malts and grains are combined in various ways
  • Vatted malt is blended from malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labelled "pure malt" or just "malt" it is almost certain to be a vatted whisky. This is also sometimes labelled as "blended malt" whisky.
  • Single malt whisky is malt whisky from a single distillery. However, unless the whisky is described as "single-cask" it will contain whisky from many casks, and different years, so the blender can achieve a taste recognisable as typical of the distillery. In most cases, the name of a single malt will be that of the distillery (The Glenlivetmarker, Bushmillsmarker, Yoichi), with an age statement and perhaps some indication of some special treatments such as maturation in a port wine cask.
  • Pure pot still whiskey refers to a whiskey distilled in a pot-still (like single malt) from a mash of mixed malted and unmalted barley. It is exclusive to Ireland.
  • Blended whiskies are made from a mixture of malt and grain whiskies. A whisky simply described as Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey is most likely to be a blend in this sense. A blend is usually from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand, and the brand name (e.g., Chivas Regal, Canadian Club) will usually not therefore contain the name of a distillery. Jameson Irish Whiskeymarker is an exception and comes from only one distillery. However, "blend" can (less frequently) have other meanings. A mixture of malts (with no grain) from different distilleries (more usually called a vatted malt) may sometimes be referred to as a "blended malt", and a mixture of grain whiskies with no malts will sometimes carry the designation "blended grain".
  • Cask strength whiskies are rare and usually only the very best whiskies are bottled in this way. They are usually bottled from the cask undiluted. Rather than diluting, the distiller is inviting the drinker to dilute to the level of potency most palatable (often no dilution is necessary, such is the quality of single cask whiskies). Single cask whiskies are usually bottled by specialist independent bottlers, such as Duncan Taylor, Master of Malt, Gordon & MacPhail and Cadenhead amongst others.


Whiskies do not mature in the bottle, only in the cask, so the "age" of a whisky is the time between distillation and bottling. This reflects how much the cask has interacted with the whisky, changing its chemical makeup and taste. Whiskies which have been in bottle for many years may have a rarity value, but are not "older" and will not necessarily be "better" than a more recently made whisky matured in wood for a similar time. Most whiskies are sold at or near an alcoholic strength of 40% abv.

American whiskeys

American whiskey is distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain. It must have the taste, aroma, and other characteristics commonly attributed to whiskey.

The most common types listed in the federal regulations are:

  • Bourbon whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 51% corn (maize).
  • Rye whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 51% rye.
  • Corn whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 80% corn (maize).
  • Straight whiskey, (without naming a grain) is a whiskey which has been aged in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more and distilled at not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume but is derived from less than 51% of any one grain.


The "named types" of American whiskey must be distilled to not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume. "Named types" must then be aged in charred new oak containers, excepting corn whiskey. Corn whiskey does not have to be aged but, if it is aged, it must be in new un-charred oak barrels or used barrels. The aging for corn whiskey usually is brief, e.g., six months.

If the aging for a "named type" reaches 2 years or beyond, the whiskey is then additionally designated "straight" e.g., "straight rye whiskey". "Straight whiskey" (without naming a grain) is a whiskey which has been aged in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more and distilled at not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume but is derived from less than 51% of any one grain.

American blended whiskeys combine straight whiskey with un-aged whiskey, grain neutral spirits, flavorings and colorings.

Important in the marketplace is Tennessee whiskey, of which Jack Daniel'smarker is the leading example. During distillation, it is identical to bourbon whiskey in almost every important respect including the sour mash process, which is generally unique to North America, but Tennessee whiskey is charcoal filtered prior to barrel aging. The most recognizable differences are that Tennesseemarker whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, giving it a unique flavor and aroma. The other major difference is the reuse of barrels which is not allowed in bourbon whiskey production. Though not defined by regulations, the Government of the United Statesmarker of America officially recognized Tennessee whiskey as a separate style in 1941.

Canadian whiskies

Various Canadian whiskies


Canadianmarker whiskies are usually lighter and smoother than other whisky styles. Another common characteristic of many Canadian whiskies is their use of rye that has been malted, which provides a fuller flavour and smoothness. By Canadian law, Canadian whiskies must be produced in Canada, be distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain, "be aged in small wood for not less than 3 years", and "possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky". The terms "Canadian Whisky", "Canadian Rye Whisky" and "Rye Whisky" are legally indistinguishable in Canada and do not denote any particular proportion of rye or other grain used in production.

Finnish whiskies

In the last few years Finnishmarker whisky culture has developed strongly and it is still in progress of evolving. Finnish whisky culture now lives a very strong growth through the rising standard of living and general culinary trend. The sales figures and the quantity of devotees of whisky have risen very powerfully. Currently, there are two working distilleries in Finland and a third one is under construction. Whisky retail sales in Finland are controlled solely by the state alcohol monopoly Alko and advertisement of strong alcoholic beverages is banned. However, the monopoly status of Alko and the advertising prohibition do not stop people from taking interest in whiskies, even though they can make it more difficult.

German whiskies

German whisky is made from grains traditionally associated with the production of whisky. The distillation of German-made whisky is a relatively recent phenomenon having only started in the last 30 years. The styles produced resemble those made in Ireland, Scotland and the United States: single malts, blends, and bourbon styles. There is no standard spelling of German whiskies with distilleries using both "whisky" and "whiskey" and one even using "whessky", a play on the word whisky and Hessen, the state in which it is produced. There are currently ten distilleries in Germany producing whisky.

Indian whiskies

Indian whisky is an alcoholic beverage that is labelled as "whisky" in Indiamarker. Much Indian whisky is distilled from fermented molasses, and as such would be considered a sort of rum outside of the Indian subcontinent. 90% of the "whisky" consumed in India is molasses based, although India has begun to distill whisky from malt and other grains.

Kasauli Distillery is set in the Himalaya mountains and opened in the late 1820s. The main whisky brand is a single malt named "Solan No. 1". This was named after the town nearby called Solan. It was the best selling Indian whisky till recently, but has declined since the early 1980s' because of the stiff competition from the larger distilleries. Other whiskies this distillery produces are Diplomat Deluxe, Colonel's Special, Black Knight and Summer Hall.

Irish whiskeys

Various Irish whiskeys


Most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times, although there are exceptions. Though traditionally distilled using the pot still method, in modern times a column still is used to produce the grain whiskey used in blends. By law, Irish whiskey must be produced in Irelandmarker and aged in wooden casks for a period of no less than three years, although in practice it is usually three or four times that period. Unpeated malt is almost always used, the main exception being Connemara Peated Malt whiskey.

There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland: single malt, single grain, blended whiskey and uniquely to Ireland, pure pot still whiskey. The designation "pure pot still" as used in Ireland generally refers to whiskey made of 100% barley, mixed malted and unmalted, and distilled in a pot still made of copper. The "green" unmalted barley gives the traditional pure pot still whiskey a spicy, uniquely Irish quality. Like single malt, pure pot still is sold as such or blended with grain whiskey. Usually no real distinction is made between whether a blended whiskey was made from single malt or pure pot still.

Japanese whiskies

The model for Japanese whiskies is the single malt Scotch, although there are also examples of Japanese blended whiskies. The base is a mash of malted barley, dried in kilns fired with a little peat (although considerably less than is the case in Scotland), and distilled using the pot still method. For some time Japanese whisky suffered from the commonly held belief that whisky made in the Scotch style, but not produced in Scotland, was inferior, and until fairly recently, the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic. In recent years, Japanese whiskies have won prestigious international awards and now enjoys a deserved reputation for a quality product.

Scotch whiskies

Various Scotch whiskies


Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, though some are distilled a third time. International laws require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotlandmarker and matured for a minimum of three years and one day in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. If Scotch whisky is from more than one cask, and if it includes an age statement on the bottle, it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Many cask-strength single malts omit the age as they use younger elements in minute amounts for flavouring and mellowing. The basic types of Scotch are malt and grain, which are combined to create blends. Many, though not all, Scotch whiskies use peat smoke to treat their malt, giving Scotch its distinctive smoky flavour. While the market is dominated by blends, the most highly prized of Scotch whiskies are the single malts. Scotch whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown.

Welsh whiskies

In 2000, Penderyn Distillery started production of the Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky in Wales, the first Welsh whisky since all production ended in 1894. The first bottles went on sale on 1 March 2004, Saint David's Day and is now sold throughout the world. Penderyn Distillery is situated in Brecon Beacons National Park and is considered the smallest distillery in the world.

Other whiskies

In Britanny, France, five distilleries (Distillerie des Menhirs, Guillon, Glann ar Mor, Kaerilis and Warenghem) produce whisky using techniques similar to those in Scotland.

Two whiskies are produced on the French island of Corsicamarker: Altore and P&M. Altore is distilled in Scotland, but blended and matured on Corsica in muscat casks. P&M (Pietra & Mavella) is a coproduction of the brewery Pietra and the distillery Mavella. The mash is enriched with chestnut flour. P&M is also matured in muscat casks.

Manx Spirit from the Isle of Man is, like some Virginia whiskeys in the USA, actually distilled elsewhere and re-distilled in the country of its nominal "origin".

In Sweden a new distillery (Mackmyra), started selling its products in 2008.

Recently at least two distilleries in the traditionally brandy-producing Caucasus region announced their plans to enter the Russian domestic market with whiskies. The Stavropolmarker-based Praskoveysky distillery bases its product on Irish technology, while in Kizlyarmarker, Dagestanmarker's "Russian Whisky" announced a Scotch-inspired drink in single malt, blended and wheat varieties.

In Taiwan, the King Car company built a whisky distillery in the city of Yilan, and has recently begun marketing Kavalan Single Malt Whisky. King Car Whisky Distillery

Production of whiskey started in Norfolk, England in late 2006 with the effect that the first whiskey (as opposed to malt spirit) will be available in later 2009. This will be the first English single malt in over 100 years. Previously Bristol and Liverpool were centres of English whiskey production. East Anglia is a source of much of the grain used in Scottish whiskey.

Names and spellings

The word "whiskey" is believed to have been coined by soldiers of King Henry II who invaded Ireland in the 12th century as they struggled to pronounce the native Irish words uisce beatha , meaning "water of life". Over time, the pronunciation changed from "Whishkeyba" (an approximation of how the Irish term sounds) to "Whisky". The name itself is a Gaelic calque of the Latin phrase aqua vitae, meaning "Water of Life".

At one time, all whisky was spelled without the "e", as "whisky". In around 1870, the reputation of Scottish whisky was very poor as Scottish distilleries flooded the market with cheaper spirits produced using the Coffey still. The Irish and American distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey", with the extra "e", to distinguish their higher quality product. Today, the spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker, Canadamarker, and Japanmarker, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Irelandmarker and Americamarker. Even though a 1968 directive of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specifies "whisky" as the official U.S. spelling, it allows labeling as "whiskey" in deference to tradition and most U.S. producers still use the historical spelling. Exceptions such as Early Times, Maker's Markmarker, and George Dickel are usually indicative of a Scottish heritage.

In the late Victorian era, Irish whiskey was the world's most popular whisk(e)y. Of the Irish whiskeys, Dublinmarker whiskeys were regarded as the grands crus of whiskeys. In order to differentiate Dublin whiskey from other whiskies, the Dublin distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey". The other Irish distilleries eventually followed suit. The last Irish "whisky" was Paddy, which adopted the "e" in 1966.

"Scotch" is the internationally recognized term for "Scotch whisky" however it is rarely used in Scotland, where grain whisky is generally referred to as "whisky" and single malt whisky as "malt".

In many Latin-American countries, whisky (wee-skee) is used as a photographer's cue to smile, supplanting English "cheese". The Uruguayan film Whisky got its name because of this.

Chemistry

Whiskies and other distilled beverages such as cognac and rum are complex beverages containing a vast range of flavouring compounds, of which some 200 to 300 can be easily detected by chemical analysis. The flavouring chemicals include "carbonyl compounds, alcohols, carboxylic acids and their esters, nitrogen- and sulphur-containing compounds, tannins and other polyphenolic compounds, terpenes, and oxygen-containing heterocyclic compounds" and esters of fatty acids. The nitrogen compounds include pyridines, picolines and pyrazines.

Flavours from distillation

The flavouring of whisky is partially determined by the presence of congeners and fusel oils. Fusel oils are higher alcohols than ethanol, are mildly toxic, and have a strong, disagreeable smell and taste. An excess of fusel oils in whisky is considered a defect. A variety of methods are employed in the distillation process to remove unwanted fusel oils. Traditionally, American distillers focused on secondary filtration using charcoal, gravel, sand, or linen to subtract undesired distillates. Canadian distillers have traditionally employed column stills which can be controlled to produce an almost pure (and less flavourful) ethanol known as neutral grain spirit or grain neutral spirit (GNS). Flavour is restored by blending the neutral grain spirits with flavouring whiskies.

Acetals are rapidly formed in distillates and a great many are found in distilled beverages, the most prominent being acetaldehyde diethyl acetal (1,1-diethoxyethane). Among whiskies the highest levels are associated with malt whisky. This acetal is a principal flavour compound in sherry, and contributes fruitiness to the aroma.

The diketone diacetyl (2,3-Butanedione) has a buttery aroma and is present in almost all distilled beverages. Whiskies and cognacs typically contain more than vodkas, but significantly less than rums or brandies.

Flavours from oak

Whisky lactone (3-methyl-4-octanolide) is found in all types of oak. This lactone has a strong coconut aroma. Whisky lactone is also known as quercus lactone.

Commercially charred oaks are rich in phenolic compounds. One study discriminated 40 different phenolic compounds. The coumarin scopoletin is present in whisky, with the highest level reported in Bourbon whiskey.

See also



References

  1. http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr;sid=33fc0c0194b58b6fe95208945b5c637a;rgn=div5;view=text;node=27%3A1.0.1.1.3;idno=27;cc=ecfr#27:1.0.1.1.3.3
  2. http://www.scotlandwhisky.com/about/how
  3. http://www.whiskeywise.com/whiskey-barrels.html
  4. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-12549581.html Differences between Scotch and Irish whiskey
  5. Nikka Yoichi 10 Single Cask scores highest
  6. 2008 World Whisky Awards
  7. Distillerie des Menhirs
  8. Guillon
  9. Glann ar Mor
  10. Kaerilis
  11. Warenghem
  12. http://www.corsica-isula.com/gastronomy.htm
  13. Mackmyra
  14. St Geroge's distillery
  15. Lloyd, J & Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance". Faber & Faber, 2006.


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