That’s it! That’s it! You are getting to know wine well. We’ve been talking about whiskey for a while. Besides, it’s fashionable. Here’s what you need to know to avoid making mistakes and easily identify your whisky tastes and desires.
Whisky (whiskey in the U.S. and Ireland) is a magical drink straight from unicorn heaven. Or not? It is a spirit, with an alcohol content of at least 40°, made from cereals and aged in barrels for at least 3 years. For this time, we will talk about malt singles. Single malt is one of the whisky families found all over the world. More precisely, this term defines a whisky coming from only one distillery (= single) and manufactured with 100% malted barley (= malt).
I DIDN’T GET IT!
Don’t move! Don’t move! I’ll keep going!
To make a whisky, we first germinate the seeds of cereals, it is what we call malting. All cereals can be malted to make whisky, but when it comes to single malt it will only refer to barley.
Then we make beer! Because even if it is very simplistic, whisky results from the double distillation of beer (just as calvados is a distillation of cider and cognac is a distillation of wine). To do this, the cereals will be mixed with water to release their starch. Yeasts are then added whose enzymes will eat the sugar from the starch to transform it into alcohol. At this stage, you have a strong and cloudy beer that can be distilled in a still. For single malt whiskies, the most common alembic is the “gooseneck” alembic – the name comes directly from its shape – for its ability to reveal more aromas.
DISTILLATION? HOW DOES IT WORK?
Distillation is a crucial step in whisky making. For the theoretical part it is quite simple: it is enough to heat the beer previously obtained in the still. When heated, alcohol, which is lighter than water, will evaporate through the swan neck. The esters, which are found at the end of the neck, will then be cooled so that the alcohol condenses and grades about 28°. Then, it will be distilled again by the same process in order to obtain, this time, an alcohol titrating between 72 and 80°.
In the Lowlands (Southern Scotland) and Ireland (traditionally), beer (called “wort” for whisky) can be distilled a third time. This is called triple distillation. This will make the whiskies lighter and rounder.
Finally, the alcohol obtained after two or three distillations will be placed in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years to obtain the whisky designation (except for Taiwan, because being located in a tropical region, they benefit from a derogation bringing the minimum number of legal years to 2).
DU CHÊNE ? AND WHY NOT APPLE TREE?
Indeed, there are several dozen varieties of oak throughout the world and a thousand times more types of trees. Then why oak?
Simply because it is a wood with excellent properties for preserving and ageing whisky. Since it is waterproof, it prevents whisky leaks and, in addition, it is porous enough to promote aroma exchanges.
To be more precise, the oak most often used for single malts is Quercus Alba, a variety of oak native to North America. It is used by Americans to age Bourbon (whiskey containing between 51 and 80% corn in its composition).
And that’s good, for the single malt, we need the Americans to use these barrels first!
Kentucky Americans are forced to use new American oak barrels to produce Bourbon. Once the bourbon is aged and removed, the barrel will be sold to other producing countries such as Scotland, Japan, Ireland or France.
The new oak barrels very quickly give their aromas to the bourbons: sweet, vanilla and woody notes. Once the oak is well patinated by the bourbon, itself matured and removed from the cask, we can put our single malt to rest for several years.
The Scots therefore buy these casks which have already released part of their aromas because already used, not to obtain too vanilla flavours and/or too woody in their single malts!
AND WHAT’S PEAT?
Uh! Please don’t complicate everything!
Peat is an additional but not compulsory step in the production of single malt whisky. It’s an option if you want. Attention: there is peat and peat. A peat whisky and a peat-smoked whisky. Peat is sedimented soil that is dried and burned. The smoke will then give its aromas to the malt located, above, on a perforated floor. This stage will give a “peaty” taste to the whisky.
The peaty taste is quite particular and loved by some as well as hated by others. So I do not advise too much to start with this type of whisky rather medicinal and smoky.
IT’S ACTUALLY PRETTY SIMPLE.
Generally speaking, yes… and no! Otherwise you wouldn’t need this article! Because what is magic in whisky is precisely the unlimited number of possible combinations. Even more than for wine.
Each bottle of whisky can surprise you because the number of parameters to take into account is amazing: selected grains, type of still, choice of cask, time and ageing conditions… and each parameter is infinitely modifiable and adjustable.
We have seen that most often, the single malt is aged in American oak barrels but it can also settle a few months to a few years in European oak barrels (Quercus Robur) having contained Sherry wines to obtain notes of red fruits and dried fruits.
Others are experimenting.
A certain American ages his single malt in cherry casks and dips large pieces of apple tree during aging and the result is really surprising.
Or a certain Frenchman (a Parisian to be precise) created a partnership with a cooper in order to create his own barrel to be able to adapt to constraints of space and time.
BUT HOW DO WE FIND OUR WAY AROUND?
To put it simply, I wouldn’t advise you too much to start with the great classics. Avoid listening too much to your “whisky-loving friend” who has been drinking whisky for years. If he or she wants to do the right thing, he or she may lead you to whiskies that may disgust you rather than satisfy you.
If you find the beverage a little too strong in alcohol, do not hesitate to dilute it with one or two drops of water (not mineral), not too much to keep the aromas. Especially take your time. Try to decipher what you smell and taste.
For me, the discovery of whisky is a bit like the discovery of coffee. We start by putting two pieces of sugar, to evolve slowly and not to put any more at all. We start to look for better coffee, a more precise roasting, more varied origins etc.. While some people will continue to enjoy a long coffee with three sugars.
Once again, everyone must find their own way and their own way to please themselves. If you enjoy your drink on three ice cubes, that’s not a problem. My only advice is to try something new from time to time by taking the risk of putting only one ice cube…
ABERLOUR 10 years old, round with notes of pears and apples. Slightly iodized.
DALMORE 12 year old, round and fat, generous and very fine whisky.
MIYAGIKYO Single Malt Of 45%, Japanese fine and delicate, a little more expensive because fashionable but worth it!
TO START WITH PEAT
GLENROTHES Peated Cask Reserve Of 40%, delicate peat and beautiful spicy notes.
BENROMACH 10 years Of 43%, round and fruity, a light smoky and peaty finish.
CAOL ILA DISTILLERS EDITION Of 43%, a peat more frank but always fine.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me know by commenting and/or sharing the article with your entourage.
See you very soon
Corentin – DesVinsaVous.com