Whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.
The History and Process of Distillation
The practice of distilling liquid can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians. Distillation is really a simple process. Liquid is heated in one chamber and the evaporated vapour is collected in another chamber. When whisky is produced, barley is germinated then dried with smoke. Once dried, it’s ground and added to water, and then fermented. Once fermentation is achieved, the liquid is distilled to produce a 20% alcohol, then distilled a second time in a more complex process where the first distillate and the last (feints) are discarded, preserving the centre part of distillation. The centre part of the distillation then sits in a barrel and ages for years where it will develop its characteristic flavour.
The History of Scotch Whisky
Scotch has been referred to as “the water of life,” and to many who know its allure today, they can understand why. Yet the chronicle of this sometimes, smoky, often nutty, occasionally fruity elixir is poorly known, and in fact, its precise origin is lost to the mists of time (or more likely, drinking Scotch).
What is Scotch?
Essentially, Scotch is malted barley that is fermented and distilled (twice), then allowed to age in oak barrels. In Scotland, Scotch must mature in its barrel for at least 3 years, although most age in the range of 8 to 20. Scotch made in its homeland, Canada and England is called Scotch Whisky (no e), while that made in Ireland and the U.S. is Scotch Whiskey.
Earliest Scotch Production
The first record of Scotch production is found in The Exchequer Rolls from 1494, tax records that show the purchase of ingredients to make the liquor: “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae [water of life]”
Other early records indicate that even King James IV was a fan, and on September 15 and 17 of 1506 (according to his Treasurer’s Account), he had ordered aqua vite.
Apparently, the elixir was being made across Scotland by the 17th century, as the Register of the Privy Council in Gamrie, Banffshire notes its presence in reference to a breaking and entering in 1614, and uiskie (whisky) was also mentioned in funeral records from 1618.
Types of Scotch Whisky
There are 5 categories of Scotch whisky:
Widely considered the gold standard of Scotch, single malt is distilled at a single distillery, in pot stills, from only water and malted barely, without any other cereal grains added.
Also distilled at a single distillery, this whisky will also have water and malted barley, and may have other whole malted or unmalted grains or cereals. Even if it doesn’t have additional grains or cereals, for some reason, this Scotch does not meet the requirements of a single malt.
At this level, the whisky is a blend between one or more single grain and one or more single malt scotch whiskies.
This type has more than one single malt Scotch whisky from more than one distillery blended together.
As with the blended malt, the spirits in this category are made from more than one single grain scotch whisky, produced at more than one distillery.