Do you know your Irish Whiskey from your Scotch Whisky?
Whiskey as we spell it in Ireland or whisky in Scotland is the most popular of all the grain spirits, first thought to be distilled by monks in Ireland as early as the 12th century. But it was in 1608 when Bushmills distillery first received its grant. Even up until Victorian times Irish whiskey was more popular than Scotch.
The difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whiskies
·The big difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey is the distilling phase which is made twice with Scotch and three times with Irish, giving Irish whiskey a particular lightness
·Scotch whisky first allows the barley to sprout and then it is dried. Irish whiskey uses raw and malted barley while Scotch is entirely malted barley. (This is partly because there was an extra tax on malt in Ireland)
·Scotch barley is dried with peat smoke which gives the usual scotch aroma to whisky.
·Scotch is cask aged for at least 2 years, Irish at least 3 years.
·Irish whiskey is distilled three times in larger than normal copper "pot" stills. The pot stills and the extra distillation produce a uniquely delicate drink. Developing later, Scotch uses continuous process stills.
·The rural poor, in Ireland, made whiskey first. The logic is whiskey developed in a bread eating culture. You grow grain, mill it for bread and save some to sow next year's crop. In good seasons when you have extra, you make whiskey.
·The Irish invented it, but Scotland is the spiritual home of whiskey
Scotch whisky can only be called Scotch whisky if it is distilled and matured in Scotland.
There are two kinds of whisky; malt whisky, used essentially in the creation of blended whiskies, or bottled in small proportions as a Single Malt; and grain whisky, which is combined with malt whisky to create the famous blends.
Malt whiskey is produced from barley and produced in a pot still.
A “single” whisky is the product of one distillery only.
A “blended” whisky is a mixture of grain whisky and a number of malt whiskies.
A “Single malt” whisky is the product of one distillery and is usually aged for a length of time prior to release. It is usually a blend of different casks from different years all from the same distillery. Each malt has it’s own distinctive flavour.
A “Single grain” malt is the product of a grain distillery only, it is usually lighter in style and far more neutral than a malt.
Pot still whiskey is a traditional name for Irish Whiskey produced from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.
A “vatted malt” will contain a number of malt whiskies that have been skilfully blended together or "married," to create a consistent whisky with its own distinct, identifiable character.
A pot still is a copper container in which the distillation process is carried out. The heating of the contents of the still produces vapours containing the alcohol which is separated from the water.
The Coffee still or Patent still invented by Irish man Aeneas Coffee, a former Government Excise Official. His invention allows the continuous distillation of wash (The term given to the fermented liquid prior to being pumped into the wash still for the first distillation).
Is made in a patent rather than in a pot still. The raw material used is maize which is ground to a flour and then cooked under steam pressure to release the starch. Grain whisky is distilled to a higher purity which results in the spirit being less-flavoured than from the pot still which matures quicker.
There are four main types of Scotch whisky,
Most scotch falls into this category as they come from north of a line from Greenock to Dundee. They produce the most delicately flavoured malts.
These whiskies’s come from the island of the same name and give them a full flavour peaty malts often with flavours of iodine and tar.
The whiskies of this region are noted for their elegance and complexity.
These whiskeys are from south of the Dundee to Greenock line producing the lightest of malts which are largely used in blends.
How to make whisky
The first stage of production is the conversion of the starch in the barley into sugar. This is done by steeping the barley in water for forty eight hours.
The damp barley is then spread out on a malting floor and turned regularly. Now germination starts and it becomes “green malt”.
Before germination takes over the green malt is placed it in a peat fired kiln which stops any further germination. The peat or “reek” adds extra flavour to the barley which is now called “malt”.
The malt is now ground in a mill to where it forms “grist”
The grist is then mixed with hot water in a large vat to extract the sugar. The result is a sweet product called “wort”.
The wort is then drawn off and transferred into large fermenting vats where the raw material for distillation called “wash” is created.
All scotch malt whiskey is produced using the Pot Still. This is a double distillation. The first is the wash-still which converts the wash, at about 12%, to low-wines (about 30% vol). The low-wines are then collected and re-distilled in the smaller spirit still which produces raw whisky about 70% vol. This is the middle part of the distillate; the heads (called foreshots) and the tails (called feints) are removed as they contain toxic substances.
The resulting spirit cannot be regarded as Scotch whisky until it is matured in oak casks for at least three years. The most popular casks are freshly emptied sherry casks.
Irish whiskey is made using a pot still in which the spirit is distilled three times from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, oats and wheat. The heads and the tails are removed on both the second and the third distillation resulting in a very smooth and mellow spirit.
How to drink whiskey
There is no right or wrong way to drink Scotch whisky - it's all down to personal taste at the end of the day. However, here are a few suggestions:
Many who drink whiskey neat say they do not want to spoil the taste by adding water. However, equally as many will say that adding a touch of water, serves to enhance the distinctive aroma and flavour of a whiskey. Tap water may contain high amounts of chlorine and therefore would not complement any whisky - your best bet is to opt for bottled mineral water!
Adding ice to a whisky is such as a shame because it will only dull the fine taste and wonderful aromas. Similarly, carbonated water is not an ideal accompaniment for whiskey as it may interfere with the aromas also.
Adding mixers such as ginger ale, soda and even coca cola, is a popular trend, however it begs the question - why drink whiskey at all if you need to disguise the taste?
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