My first visit to Scotland was sometime back in the mid 90s. I went with a friend to visit his hometown Dundee, and this is where and when I had my first taste of scotch whisky.
If I forget the fact that I almost had my nose smashed in by one of the regulars at the neighborhood pub, and that I almost threw up my breakfast on my friend’s mom the next morning. Then the rest of this trip was unforgettable. Before this trip to Scotland I had, like most teenage men before me, tried a couple of bottles in my dad’s liquor cabinet. Usually he had some bourbon or blended whisky in there. I remember it felt like my tongue was dissolving and my throat was ripped out when I tasted his brown liquor.
Well, back to Dundee. My friend’s father had planned a trip to the Edradour distillery, and we were coming along. Edradour is located in the idyllic highland. But before joining the trip we had to get a whisky for dummies intro course. Remembering my own father’s sharp and bitter whisky I had no intention to really enjoy the glass placed in front of me. Little did I know then, that my first sip of real whisky would touch me in such a deep and intense way that it would change my life. I can honestly say that whisky was the starting point of long journey in taste.
It was a 25 yo Glenmorangie we got in the first glass that evening. The rest is long forgotten, but that first sip of scotch whisky is stuck in my taste memory. The soft opening feeling on the tongue, almost like thick cream with aromas of vanilla, caramel and dried berries coming one after another. The end was floral and almost endless. And so light.
This savory experience was so complete that it still is my hallmark when I am searching for my next thrilling adventure in taste.
Throughout the years I’ve had many whisky favorites, but I am still relatively simple and will always be comfortable with the standard Glenmorangie or Macallan. But it is usually a single malt scotch whisky. Some know-it-all’s say they can enjoy a 3 yo as much as a 21 yo. I find that to be nonsense. Of course I will enjoy a 10 yo, but I will always choose the 18 yo or older if I get to. If you ever have a chance to do a vertical tasting you can make up your own mind.
A vertical tasting is when you drink several vintages from the same distillery or vineyard. On whisky it seldom states vintage on the bottle, but the age will always be on the label. The age will be the youngest barrel blended in the single malt, ex 10 yo will be at least 10 years of age, but usually will have content from older barrels as well. Read more on the topic of scotch whisky at the end of this article.
A tour of a distillery will often end with a vertical tasting of their products. Go on at least one distillery tour when you visit Scotland. These tours will also give you a unique understanding on how scotch whisky is produced and how taste and aromas develop.
All scotch malt whisky is made with malted barley. The Malting is a process where barley is soaked in water before being spread out on a large floor, malting floor. There the barley will start to germinate, or sprout as I would say. The germination is necessary to activate an enzyme that will transform starch into sugar. The barley will now be green malt.
The sprouting barley grains now need to be dried again to stop the germination process to consume all the sugar produced by the grain. The green malt is spread out on large surfaces again, but this time it is perforated drying floors that are heated to above 70°C to stop mildew formation. It is during the drying that the green malt can be flavored with a smoke aroma by adding peat to the kiln underneath the drying floors.
After a couple of days above the kiln, the green malt will finally have become malt. The malt will then be sieved and then milled into grist, a very coarse malt flour. The grist will then be mixed into hot water to a mash. After about an hour the sugary malt water, now called wort, is sieved off and transferred into the wash tanks where yeast is added. The fermentation will spend a couple of days transforming all the sugar from the wort into alcohol. The fluid now called the wash is about 8-9 % alcohol.
The wash is pumped directly into distilling in a pot still. All maltwhisky is distilled twice. First in the wash still, then for a second distillation in the low wines still.
After distilling the whiskyen will hold above 70% alcohol and the alcohol needs to be lowered inbetween 64-65 % for storage. When desired percentage is reached the whisky will be transferred into oak barrels and stored for at least 3 years. In my opinion it should be at least 10 years, and most distilleries store most of their barrels for decades. I have tasted directly from a barrel more than 60 years old, and it was delicious!
There are many factors influencing the development of flavor and aromas in whisky. Many of you may recognize the pre-distillation process as similar to that of making beer, and you will find that tastes are developed in the same manner. Water is of course a prerequisite and most distilleries are utilizing their local water source like a river running by the distillery. The quality of the barley is important as it influences the malt, but also the germination process, the drying and the amount of peat all be varying factors influencing taste. The yeast will of course bring flavor, so will the choice of barrels.
Now if you really want to delve into the details of making whisky one of the better sites will be Whisky.com . Here you will find everything from fermentation chemistry to tasting sheets.
You will find several scandinavian whisky distilleries. In Sweden they have the famous Mackmyra, Denmark have Stauning, Finland have their Teerenpeli and in Norway we have Buran and Tautra that will start selling their sales now in 2016. We also have Myken already selling theirs.
Needs no further introduction to the expert of scotch whisky as they are mostly mistaken for scotch whisky in blind tastings. To all the experts irritation. Have a long tradition for making solid quality whisky now. Be on the lookout for Nikka, Yamazaki, Suntory and Hakushu – the latter three owned by Suntory.
A method where you blend whisky from several distilleries or where you use an expensive malt whisky as base and blend in cheap grain whisky to lower the price of the end product.
Single malt whisky:
Whisky produced at one distillery. A blend of several barrels of different vintage/storage. The year stated on bottle is the youngest barrel in the blend.
Single cask whisky:
Whisky of one single barrel from one single distillery.
Whisky where the alcohol percentage of the barrel is kept, usually 64-65 %.