There are more than one kind of whisky, but then there isn’t. Scotch Whisky is Whisky. There is Irish Whiskey if one cannot get one’s hands on Scotch Whisky. Scotch Whisky is made, or given to us by the Gods, I dunno, from malted barley. Irish Whiskey is a blend, made from malted and unmalted barley. I know you won’t raise your hands, but there are a lot of you in the room who use the term malted and unmalted (the autocorrect of unmalted is unmated which is funny) without knowing what they mean. I don’t expect you to admit it but I know it is true. Malted barley is barley one pours water over and then dries with hot air. Which does something one can taste. Now you can put your hands down. If you are a lover of Irish Whiskey though, there is a pragmatic reason why unmalted barley was used. Tax avoidance. Malt tax in particular, which has caused justifiable riots.
There is an INORDINATE amount of time and effort spent on my writing style so I get it – every word is scrutinized (and there have to be enough of them in a sentence and so forth), but I am not misspelling Whisky. Scotch Whisky doesn’t use the “e”. Neither does the Japanese. Or the English, or the Welsh. Or the rest of the world. The Irish and the Americans use an “e” and I was going to figure out why but then I thought about taste testing and didn’t.
Scotch Whisky brings smoke to the nose and tongue, Irish Whiskey is vanilla. At least every one I’ve tasted is. The smoke in Scotch Whisky comes from the fire that causes the aforementioned heat. There are other contributing factors to taste – the most usual suspect being the cask. Scotch Whisky must be aged three years in a cask but oftentimes three years is just the starting point. Scotch Whisky is like relationships that way. Here’s what they don’t tell you. About Scotch Whisky. What they don’t tell you about relationships is a library, and this is a website. What they don’t tell you about Scotch Whisky is that it is often finished. Finishing means that the Whisky is taken from the first cask and poured into another cask which maybe held wine or something else before. Finishing accounts for a lot of those “hints of” tasting notes. Because again like relationships, there are residual effects in creation.
Here’s something I never understood. The practice of cutting Scotch Whisky with water. Or anything else for that matter. A matter of personal preference for sure but for my taste, I want to taste what the distiller meant for me to taste. I don’t look at paintings with sunglasses on, I certainly do not dip cigars in anything and will probably leave the room if you do, and I don’t cut whisky or whiskey with anything.
Decanting is hilarious if you know a little bit about whisky. There are arguments for and against decanting wine and either side has some merit. There is no argument for decanting whisky unless it is a visual one. Whisky does not have tannins. Wine does. So wine changes when air hits it and whisky does not. As they used to say in a liquor store in Greenwich I may or may not have hung out in: What do you call an 100 year old bottle of 12 year old Scotch Whisky? A bottle of 12 year old Scotch Whisky. Nothing happens in the bottle. Which is not to say don’t decant if you have a library and you have a cart and you have friends who would appreciate that sort of thing. But it is to say that there is no taste advantage to decanting.
Another way whisky is like relationships – most do not respond well after time to direct sunlight. Keep that in mind, bottle or decanter.
Scotch Whisky constitutes (brace yourself) more than 20% of the UK’s food and beverage exports. You can get in on that action, if you want, by investing in a cask. I was approached. When you are doing the math keep in mind that an average of 2% of a whisky cask’s contents are lost to evaporation every year. That number gets important as you age things. Probably a better investment is copper because whether it be Scotch or Irish, whisky or whiskey is distilled in copper. Pots in Scotland, stills in Ireland, copper in both. I met a guy who stole wire for copper once. Better to invest than steal, his story did not end well.
Speaking of the law, by law Scotch and Irish Whiskies must be 40% alcohol content by volume. Having been that same percentage myself for a few years once, I can tell you it is an admirable standard whilst also nothing to jerk around with.
Scotch Whisky is gluten free and vegan. So what? That matters to some people. Not to me, but to some people.
Either way have a wonderful weekend and a glass on me. – JB