Whisky

whiskey

[hwis-kee, wis-]
or whisky

Any of several distilled liquors made from a fermented mash of cereal grains. Whiskeys are distinctive because of differences in raw materials and production methods. All are aged in wooden containers. The earliest direct account of whiskey making is found in Scottish records from 1494. Scotch whisky (this spelling is also used by Canadians) is usually somewhat light in body, with a distinctive smoky malt flavour; it is made primarily from malted barley that has been heated over a peat fire, fermented, distilled, and blended with similar whiskies made by different distillers. Irish whiskeys, lighter-bodied and lacking any smoky flavor, are not malt-fired and may be mixed with neutral grain spirits. Canadian whisky, light in colour and flavour, is a blend of highly flavoured and neutral grain whiskies. In the U.S., the largest producer and consumer of whiskey, both straight (at least 51percnt single-mash) and blended whiskeys are produced, derived from both sour and sweet mashes. (Sour mashes are fermented with both fresh and previously fermented yeast; sweet mashes employ only fresh yeast.) Bourbon, first produced in Bourbon Co., Ky., is a full-bodied unblended whiskey derived from a sour mash of corn grain. Whiskeys are consumed both unmixed and in cocktails, punches, and other beverages.

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(1875) Group of U.S. whiskey distillers who defrauded the government of taxes. The ring operated mainly in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago and kept liquor taxes after bribing Internal Revenue officials in Washington, D.C. A secret investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department resulted in 238 indictments and 110 convictions. While not involved, Pres. Ulysses S. Grant was tarnished by the scandal; his private secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was indicted but acquitted on Grant's testimony. The Republican Party allegedly received some of the illegally held tax money.

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(1794) American uprising to protest a federal liquor tax. Farmers in western Pennsylvania rebelled against paying a tax on their locally distilled whiskey and attacked federal revenue collectors. After 500 armed men burned the home of the regional tax inspector, Pres. George Washington ordered 13,000 federal troops to the area. The rebellion quickly dissolved without further violence. The event established the authority of federal law within the states and strengthened support for the Federalists' advocacy of a strong central government.

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Whisky (uisge-beatha), or whiskey (uisce beatha or fuisce), refers to a broad category of alcoholic beverages that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (generally oak).

Different grains are used for different varieties, including: barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn). Whisky derives from the Gaelic word for "water" (uisce or uisge), and is called in full uisge-beatha (in Scotland) or uisce beatha (Ireland), meaning "Water of Life". It is related to the Latin aqua vitae, also meaning "water of life". It is always Scotch whisky (plural: whiskies), and Irish whiskey (whiskeys).

History

The first written record of whisky comes from 1405 in Ireland, where it was distilled by monks. It is also mentioned in Scotland in 1496. However it is thought that whisky had already been around for at least several hundred years prior. When or where whisky was first distilled is unknown and the local, undocumented beverage production during the period makes identification of the drink's origin difficult. Additionally, it is possible that different groups discovered processes of distillation completely independently of one another.

Some scholars believe distilled spirits were first produced between the 8th century AD and 9th century AD in the Middle East with the art of distillation being brought to Ireland and Britain by Christian monks.

Types

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 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 Glenlivet, Bushmills, 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, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Canadian Club) will usually not therefore contain the name of a 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 mixtures 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 bottled from the cask undiluted. Rather than diluting, the distiller is inviting the drinker to dilute to the level of potency most palatable.

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.

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 Scotland 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. 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.

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 Ireland and aged in wooden casks for a period of not 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 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 it was believed by many that whisky made in the Scotch style, but not produced in Scotland, could not possibly measure up to the standards of the traditional Scotch distilleries. Because of this, until fairly recently, the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic.

However, in recent years, a number of blind tastings have been organized by Whisky Magazine, which have included Japanese single malts in the lineup, along with malts from distilleries considered to be among the best in Scotland. On more than one occasion, the results have had Japanese single malts (particularly those of Yoichi and Yamazaki) scoring higher than their Scotch counterparts.

Canadian whiskies

Canadian whiskies are usually lighter and smoother than other whiskey 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 wooden barrels for no 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.

American whiskeys

American whiskeys must be distilled from a fermented mash of grain and possess the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky. The most common of the "named types" listed in the federal regulationsare:

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's is the leading example. During distillation, it is identical to bourbon in almost every important respect. The most recognizable difference is that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, giving it a unique flavor and aroma. The Government of the United States of America officially recognized Tennessee whiskey as a separate style in 1941.

Welsh whiskies

In 2000, Penderyn Distillery started production of the Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky in Wales. The first bottles went on sale on 1 March 2004, Saint David's Day. It is now sold throughout the world.

Indian whiskies

Indian whisky is an alcoholic beverage that is labelled as "whisky" in India. 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.

Other whiskies

In both the Bretagne/France (Armorik) and in Germany (Slyrs), whiskies are distilled using techniques similar to those in Scotland. 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 England, a new distillery (St. George's Distillery) became operational in late 2006; the product will come onto the market in due time, based on ageing and marketing considerations.

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

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 translation of the Latin phrase aqua vitae, meaning "Water of Life".

At one time, all whisky was spelled without the extra '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 Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and America. 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 Mark, and George Dickel are usually indicative of a Scottish heritage.

In the late Victorian era, Irish whiskey was the world's whisk(e)y of choice. Of the Irish whiskeys, Dublin 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 common term for "Scotch whisky".

In many Latin-American countries, "whiskey" (wee-skee) is used as a photographer's cue to smile, supplanting English "cheese".

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

External links

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