Different Types of Whisky: Types of Whiskey
Used by itself, the single word ‘whisky’ (spelt without the ‘e’) usually implies that the spirit referred to is Scotch whisky, which can only be produced in Scotland, although other types of whiskey are made in different parts of the world. Whisky may be distilled from malted and unmalted barley, maize, rye, and mixtures of two or more of these. This is the original method by which whisky – and other distillates – were made. Scotch ‘Malt’ whisky is made only from malted barley and nothing else; Scotch ‘Grain’ whisky is usually made from unmalted barley plus maize or rye, mashed with malted barley. Straight malt is made in a pot still, and is distilled twice. It is then matured in wood (often American oak) and, ideally, sherry casks. It may be left for up to 15 years to mature and improve, but after about 20years it may, like any other spirit, tend to take on too much ‘woodiness’ from the cask and can decline. Grain whisky is distilled in the Coffey or patent still, by a continuous process, and it does not require such long maturation as malt.
Before bottling, the blender will assemble the different types of whisky required to make up the various blends: there may be as many as 50 different whiskies in a world-famous blend. If, however, any reference to age is made on the label of a whisky, this must be the age of the youngest whisky in the blend, not just the average age of the whole blend. The colour of a whisky need be no definite indication of its age – although whisky takes colour from its cask, it can be coloured to some degree by the admixture of caramelised sugar. There are fashions about the colour of whisky – some markets prefer pale whiskies, others like a darker whisky – but the colour does not relate to strength or age.
The name comes from the Gaelic uisge beatha, or usquebaugh, meaning ‘water of life’. The Scots have made it for centuries as a health-giving, stimulatingdrink and remedy against the hard climate of the Highlands. There is a record in 1494 to ‘eight bolls of malt’ required for making into ‘aquavitae’.
STRAIGHT MALT WHISKY:
At one time considered a drink only suitable for those leading an active out-of-door life, but recently it has become very popular with all kinds of people. Each distillery making malt will produce a completely individual whisky, and some malt goes into all good blends, indeed some is mostly destined for use in a blend. All malts have a more definite smell and flavour than grain whiskies.
There are four distinct types of malt: the Highland malts, made above a line from Dundee to Greenock, and themselves divided into Highlands and Glenlivets; Lowland malts, south of the line from Dundee to Greenock; Islay (pronounced ‘Eye-la’) from the Isle of Islay; and Campbeltowns, from Campbeltown in the Mull of Kintyre. Whisky is bottled normally at 40° Gay Lussac or 70° proof but there can be variations from this according to the type of whisky required and the demands of various markets. However it is not true that malt is ‘stronger’ than blended whisky.
DE LUXE WHISKIES:
In addition to malts, which are always more expensive than blended whiskies, certain luxury whiskies are now made by many of the great whisky firms. These are special because of the ages and qualities of the malts and grain whiskies used in them. A higher proportion of malt tends to be used and, sometimes, their alcoholic strength is higher.
They may be served alone, with a carbonated drink or water, or form an ingredient in a mixture. Straight malt and luxury whiskies are usually drunk neat or with spring water (ideally. Loch Katrine water, but anyway the purest water available). Traditionally they are not drunk with ice; although this is naturally a matter of individual preference.
Always whiskey with an ‘e’, its name implies the country of its origin. It is usually distilled three times, in huge pot stills, from cereals. The different brands of Irish are as individual as straight malt Scotch, and it is matured for at least 7 years. Some people find Irish whiskey gentler in character than straight malt. The Irish claim, with some reason, that their spirit was evolved before Scotch; the know-how of distilling was probably brought to Scotland by monks from Ireland. It is the base for Irish coffee, one of the most successful mixed drinks recently evolved. Poteen (or potheen) is an illegal version of the spirit. The Irish Mist liqueur is made from Irish whiskey.
Whiskey – and quite good whiskey – is made in many parts of the world – there are even stories of a ‘Scotch’ from the Far East, bearing on its label the proud statement ‘Prepared in Buckingham Palace under the personal supervision of His Majesty’! The best-known whiskies, apart from Scotch and Irish, are made in North America: in fact U.S. Whiskies are the best-selling spirits in the world at the time of writing. (Although the U.S. Is the most important customer for Scotch.)
This is made in both the U.S. And Canada. It must contain at least 51% rye grain. Most American rye is made in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
This is made only in the U.S. (it was originally made in Bourbon Country, Kentucky) and must contain at least 51% corn.
This may be made in a variety of regions in the U.S., and must contain at least 80% corn. It tends to be a rather raw, unmatured spirit.
This must be made only from cereal grain and is generally a blend of grain spirits and rye distillate.
Other whiskies, such as are made in Japan, Germany and other countries, can be pleasant beverages. Many of the best are likely to contain a proportion of Scotch, usually malt. (Japan is the second most important export market for straight malt.) What are these whiskies like? Obviously each whisky is an individual product; but those other than Scotch mostly tend to be light in character, but not necessarily lighter in alcohol.