Whisky 101

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Whisky 101
 

The Best Place to Begin Your Whisky Journey

This brief guide is designed to help you explore and understand whisky. You'll discover the ingredients used in it and how it's made.

It doesn't matter whether you're new to whisky, or you already know your Scotch from your bourbon, you're sure to discover something you didn't know.

 

Types of Whisky

Blended Whiskies

A blended whisky is made by combining single malt whiskies and grain whiskies, as well as (in some cases) neutral spirits and colouring. Most blended Scotch whiskies contain around 60% single malt and 40% grain whisky. Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker are good examples.

Grain Whiskies

Grain whisky refers to any kind of whisky made from grain that isn't malted barley - think corn, wheat or rye. Here's where you'll find whiskies like bourbon (which must be 51% corn) and rye whisky (which must contain 51% rye). Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are good examples. 

Single Malt

The cream of the crop. A single malt whisky is made at one distillery with one particular type of malted grain (usually barley). While typically associated with Scotland, they're now also made in other countries, including Australia. Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are excellent choices.

 

How Whisky Is Made

If you want to know whisky, you've got to know the things that influence its taste and appearance.

Grain

When it comes down to it, what really makes one whisky different from another is the type of grain used. The most common grains used in whisky include: barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. While malted barley is common in Scottish single malts, you're more likely to find corn and rye in American whiskeys.

Water

It's only H2O, but it can make a world of difference to your whisky. Many distilleries place special emphasis on unique aspects of their water - whether because of its purity, location or just to sound fancy.

Barrels

Often made from white oak, the barrel a whisky is aged in can make all the difference. Second-hand sherry and bourbon barrels are especially popular, as they can enhance the flavours of the whisky being aged.

Chill filtering

Chill-filtering is a method whisky-makers use to alter the appearance of a whisky. By cooling the whisky, then passing it through a fine absorption filter, the whisky is made to look clearer. While most say it doesn't have an effect on a whisky's flavour, some purists maintain it can remove some smokiness.

 

Smoky or Not

One of biggest myths about whisky is that it has to be big and powerfully smoky. That ashy edge is a result of peat, an incredibly old lump of decayed plant matter that can be dried into a compact clump and burned.

Hundreds of years back, canny distillers used peat fires to dry the grains used to make whisky, infusing the grain with a distinct smokiness. A lot of traditional distilleries in Scotland still fire up with peat but many others, including in Australia and the United States, don't use peat at all, so flavours vary greatly.

 

Making Whisky in just 6 easy steps

1. Gathering the grain

The grains - which can vary greatly from whisky to whisky - are cooked. For a single malt whisky, the barley is malted, which involves soaking the barley, allowing it to sprout, then drying and heating it. It's complicated, but it's worth it.

2. Mashing

The cooked grain is ground into a fine flour, then mixed with warm water. The end result is a yellowy liquid known as the mash.

3. Fermentation

The mash is mixed with yeast, and the magic begins, as the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol. What we've got here is known as the wash - and although it's a long way from being whisky, it is 10% alcoholic.

4. Distilling

The wash is heated, turning the alcohol to vapour, while the water remains liquid. The alcohol vapour is then collected in another tank (often called a thumper) and condensed. The liquid is then condensed again, and the result is called new-make spirit.

5. Ageing

Water is added to the high wine, then moved to wooden barrels. Here the whisky begins its ageing process, which is strictly regulated. This is when many of a whisky's complex flavours develop.

6. Bottling

We have whisky! Once aged, the end product is bottled, ensuring the whisky's flavour is maintained.

 

How to Drink It

There are no rules, so drink it any way that tastes good to you. The finest whiskies can mingle with ice or water. In Scotland and Ireland they tend to mix half-and-half with spring water to help open up the scents and flavours.

Read more about whisky (or is that whiskey?) from around the world in World Wide Whisky.

Content provided by Dan Murphy’s.

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