Liquor 101

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Liquor 101

History

The art of distillation began with the Babylonians in Mesopotamia (in what is now Iraq) from at least the 2nd millennium BC with perfumes and aromatics being distilled long before potable spirits. Distillation was brought from Africa to Europe by the Moors, and its use spread through the monasteries where it was used largely for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of colic and smallpox.Between 1100 and 1300, distillation spread from Ireland to Scotland with monastic distilleries existing in Ireland in the 12th century. Since the islands had few grapes with which to make wine, barley beer was used instead, resulting in the development of whisky. In 1494, as noted above, Scotland’s Exchequer granted the malt to Friar John Cor; this was enough malt to make about 1500 bottles, so the business was apparently thriving by that time.King James IV of Scotland (r. 1488-1513) reportedly had a great liking for Scotch whisky, and in 1506 the town of Dundee purchased a large amount of Scotch from the Guild of Surgeon Barbers, which held the monopoly on production at the time. Between 1536 and 1541, King Henry VII of England dissolved the monasteries, sending their monks out into the general public. Whisky production moved out of a monastic setting and into personal homes and farms as newly independent monks needed to find a way to earn money.The distillation process at the time was still in its infancy: whisky itself was imbibed at a very young age, and as a result tasted very raw and brutal compared to today’s versions. Renaissance-era whisky was also very potent and not diluted, and could even be dangerous at times. Over time, and with the happy accident of someone daring to drink from a cask which had been forgotten for several years, whisky evolved into a much smoother drink.

In 1707, the Acts of Union merged England and Scotland, and thereafter taxes on it rose dramatically.

An Irish or Scottish man pours some whiskey into a flask in this 1869 oil painting by Erskine Nicol.

After the English Malt Tax of 1725, most of Scotland’s distillation was either shut down or forced underground. Scotch whisky was hidden under altars, in coffins, and in any available space to avoid the government. Scottish distillers, operating out of homemade stills, took to distilling their whisky at night, where the darkness would hide the smoke rising from the stills. For this reason, the drink was known as moonshine. At one point it was estimated that over half of Scotland’s whisky output was illegal.

In America, whisky was used as currency during the American Revolution. It also was a highly coveted sundry and when an additional excise tax was levied against it, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion took place.

In 1823, the UK passed the Excise Act. legalizing the distillation (for a fee), and this put a practical end to the large-scale production of Scottish moonshine.

In 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey still, allowing for cheaper and more efficient distillation of whisky. In 1850, Andrew Usher mixed traditional whisky with that from the new Coffey still, and in doing so created the first Scottish blended whisky. This new grain whisky was scoffed at by Irish distillers, who clung to their malt whisky. Many Irish contended that the new mixture was, in fact, not whisky at all.

By the 1880s, the French brandy industry was devastated by the phylloxera pest that ruined much of the grape crop; as a result, whisky became the primary liquor in many markets.

During the Prohibition era in the 1920s in the United States, all alcohol sales were banned in the country. However, the federal government made an exemption for whisky, which could be prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies. During this time, the Walgreens pharmacy chain grew from 20 retail stores to almost 400.

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Types

Copper Pot stills at Auchentoshan Distillery in Scotland

Malted barley is an ingredient of some whiskies.

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

  • Malt is whisky made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still.
  • Grain is whisky 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 labeled “pure malt” or just “malt” it is almost certain to be a vatted whisky. This is also sometimes labeled 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 recognizable as typical of the distillery. In most cases, the name of a single malt will be that of the distillery (The Glenlivet, Bushmills, Nikka), with an age statement and perhaps some indication of some special treatments such as maturation in a port wine cask.
  • Pure pot still whisky refers to a whisky 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 Whisky 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) and will usually not contain the name of a distillery. Jameson Irish Whiskey 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, Gordon & MacPhail and Cadenhead, amongst others.
    Whisky does 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 they 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% 9bv.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, Gordon & MacPhail and Cadenhead, amongst others.
    Whisky does 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 they 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% 9bv.
  • 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, Gordon & MacPhail and Cadenhead, amongst others.
    Whisky does 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 they 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% 9bv.

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American whiskeys

Main article: American whiskey

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 types listed in the federal regulationsW2l 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 % ill.
  • Wheat whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 51% wheat.
  • Malt whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 51 % malted barley.
  • Rye malt whiskey which is made from mash that consists of at least 51 % malted ill.
  • Corn whiskey, which is made from mash that consists of at least 80% corn (maize).
  • Blended whiskey, which is a mixture that contains straight whiskey or a blend of straight whiskeys or in combination, whiskey or neutral spirits.

These “named types” of American whiskey must be distilled to not more than 80% alcohol by volume. They must then be aged in charred new oak containers, except for 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 ageing for corn whiskey usually is brief, e.g., six months.

If the aging for a “named type” reaches two 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 two years or more and distilled at not more than 80% alcohol by volume but is derived from less than 51 % of any one grain.

American blended whiskeys combine straight whiskey with grain neutral spirits (GNS), flavourings and colourings. The percentage of GNS must be disclosed on the label and may be as much at 80% on a proof gallon basis. Blended whiskey has the same alcohol content as straight whiskey but a much milder flavour.

Important in the marketplace is Tennessee whiskey, of which Jack Daniel’s is the leading example. During production it is identical to bourbon whiskey in almost every important respect including the sour mash process. The only differences is that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, which is claimed to remove some unpleasant flavours and odours and produce a cleaner spirit. Though not defined by Federal regulations, the Government of the United States officially recognized Tennessee whiskey as a separate style distinct from bourbon in 1941.


Canadian whiskies

Various Canadian whiskies
Main article: Canadian whisky

Canadian 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, all 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.


English whisky

Main article: English Whisky

Production of whisky started in Norfolk, England in late 2006 and the first whisky (as opposed to malt spirit) was made available to the public in November 2009. This is the first English single malt in over 100 years. It was produced at St George’s Distillery by the English Whisky Company. Previously Bristol and Liverpool were centres of English whisky production.


Finnish whiskies and Irish whiskeys

Various Irish whiskeys
Main article: Irish whiskey

Most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times. Though traditionally distilled using pot stills, column stills are now used to produce grain whiskey for blends. By law, Irish whiskey must be produced in Ireland 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

Main article: Japanese whisky

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 in Scotland), and distilled using the pot still method. For some time exports of Japanese whisky suffered from the belief in the West 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 enjoy a reputation as a quality product. [23][24]


Scotch whiskies

Various Scotch whiskies
Main article: Scotch whisky

Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, though some are distilled a third time. In fact, in 2009 the Bruichladdich distillery released a quadruple-distilled whisky called X4 + 3. It was the first ever official whisky of its type, International laws require anything bearing the label “Scotch” to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years and one day in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. An age statement on the bottle, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest Scotch whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed age whisky. Scotch whisky without an age statement may, by law, be as young as three years old.

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. Scotch malt whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Is]ay, Speyside and Campbeltown.


Swedish whiskies

TYPICAL GLASSWARE FOR WHISKY:

– 10 to 12 oz old fashioned rocks glass
– Heavy sham to enhance the experience with a big heavy glass.
– Round glass is ideal to swirl the liquid and warm it in your hand.
– This product should be consumed at a warmer temperature.