Whisky or whiskey? "Whisky" is the name of the grain brandy from Scotland and Canada. "Whiskey" is used for grain brandy from the USA and also Ireland. The further "e" only gives information about the country of production, but not about the quality or the production process. Our whisky shop offers a great selection of whisky carieties at excellent prices.
The history of whisky
In Ireland and Scotland the distillation process spread around the 11th century A.D. The decisive factor for this was the development of the Alambic distillation flask, which is still used today. This technique was adapted by church institutions for the production of pharmaceuticals.
It is thanks to the Irish St. Patrick that the knowledge of whisky production was spread. The national saint was born in Scotland and lived in Ireland, he is also credited with the copyright. However, the question of the origin of the whisky cannot be answered unambiguously. The fact is that the production of a whisky suitable for drinking was recorded from the 12th century onwards.
Starting in Ireland, knowledge of whisky production spread to Scotland, but there peat was used instead of coal to heat the kilns. This smoky taste has been characteristic of Scotch whisky ever since. The first written evidence of production in Scotland was an invoice for the purchase of malt in 1494. Whisky was used at that time mainly as a remedy for various ailments, it did not take long until the people also developed a taste for the "water of life". This became a serious problem when the basic foodstuff barley became scarce and yet continued to be distilled black.
Whisky and its political influence
The sale of whisky was repeatedly taxed to finance wars, and when the Scottish and English parliaments merged in 1707, the spirit became nationwide. Uprisings and the strong growth of "original Scottish" black distilleries were the consequences and at the same time an expression of political resistance. Illegal smugglers and distillers of the Highlands were revered as national heroes. The "Small Stills Act" continuously put an end to the black distillery. In addition, the distinction between high and lowlands was introduced and smaller distilleries were legalized. With favorable taxation, storage and export were even tax-free, the widespread black distillery was abolished.
Meanwhile, in Ireland the government was striving to get the most out of whiskey production and an exceptionally high tax was introduced. The black market flourished and whiskey was divided into two categories: Legal (parliament) and illegal, original Irish (poitín) whiskey. A new tax, more favorable for distilleries, was enacted and the black market lost its importance. Well-known companies like Jameson and Powers established themselves on the international market. After these Irish distilleries had rejected the new "Patent Still" technology the Scottish companies were on the advance. The Scottish wave of success continued and out of it the first real blended whisky developed, which was cheaper to produce in almost the same quality than pure malt whisky. But with the outbreak of the First World War, the spirits trade came to a standstill, as all grain was only allowed to be used for food production. After various uprisings and wars that led to trade disruptions, prohibition was abolished under Roosevelt and the markets were reopened. The Scots with their well-filled warehouses were much better prepared for this than the Irish.
Whisk(e)y in the USA and Canada
With the immigration movement in the 18th century Scottish and Irish settlers handed down customs as well as whisky production to the USA and Canada. In the USA the spelling "whiskey" is used, whereas in Canada both forms are common.
The first written documentation dates back to the end of the 18th century. Barley grew significantly worse in the USA than in the old homeland. For this reason, rye and corn were first used to distill whiskey. Success was not long in coming and the state also wanted to have a piece of the pie, by means of taxes. The whiskey producers called for a whiskey rebellion, which could only be crushed after the order of the then president and army support. Kentucky became the refuge of many rebels, including the families Jim Beam, Brown-Fordman and Maker's Mug, this was the birth of Kentucky whiskey. Over time, whiskey became more and more affordable and thus developed into a mass drink. It did not take long until a movement of abstinence developed, which made alcohol withdrawal for the entire nation, but without long-term success.
In Canada, Walker broke new ground by maturing a blend for the first time over 6 years in casks and bottling it in "Club Whisky" bottles. The anti-alcohol movement also led to a partial ban on alcohol in Canada, which was lifted shortly afterwards to put a stop to the black distillery.
The ingredients of whisky
It does not take much to make a whisky: grain, water and yeast. The cask and the fuel used (peat) have a major influence on the taste of the whisky. In our whisky shop you will find variant whiskeys of different flavors.
Grains such as barley, corn, rye or wheat can be used 100% or mixed for whisky distillation. Barley has the advantage that the starch it contains can be optimally converted and fermented. This raw material is mainly used for Scottish or Irish whiskies. The most important raw material in the USA is corn, as Bourbon and Tennessee whisky must contain at least 51%.
Whisky production requires a very, very large amount of water: starting with the mashing process, cooling, cask bottling and dilution to drinking strength. Therefore, special attention is paid to the quality and presence of the liquid gold. Its quality is meticulously measured and, if necessary, the entire land is bought up, starting from the source (as in the case of Glenfiddich). The different degrees of hardness of the water have an individual effect on the taste of the whisky.
It is necessary to convert the grain starch into sugar and this into alcohol. The contained wild yeasts are not sufficient for this purpose, which is why cultivated yeast strains are used. The distilleries attach great importance to the development of these yeast strains as they have an individual effect on the variety of tastes of different whiskies.
The production of Singe Malt
In the first production step, which takes about 1 week, the grain is germinated to be processed into malt (green malt) in the next step. For this purpose the barley is distributed, moistened and germinated - in the process the starch is converted into simple sugars and heat is generated. A continuous turning process ensures the even distribution of heat. A great deal of sensitivity is required to stop this process at the optimum stage, as the maltose content is later decisive for the alcohol content.
Refers to the drying of the resulting green malt in the typical houses with pagoda roofs (kiln or malt kilns) or today in modern drying kilns. For a typical single malt, the green malt is dried by peat fire, which gives it its peaty and smoky taste. Fuels such as coal and coke are also used for drying, mixed with peat.
In the next production step, the malt is cleaned and ground to grist to release the sugar. The resulting flour mixture is placed in the mash tun with hot water, the heat does the rest and transforms starch into fermentable simple sugars. Starting at 60-68 degrees, the mash is heated to 80 degrees, this sweet wort (also called "wort") is drained 3-4 times, with only the first and second racking being processed further for the time being. The third and fourth racking are cooled and later added to the production process.
In "wash backs" made of larch, pine wood or today's widely used stainless steel tanks, the wort ("wash"), which is tempered to 20-27 degrees, is fermented with the help of yeast. The boiling liquid needs sufficient space to not overflow and this delicate process is usually fully automated and completed within 36-48 hours. The result is a clear liquid of water, yeast and 5% vol. alcohol.
During distillation, the alcohol from the "wash" is filtered out by means of "pot stills". These are two stills of different size, the first still is also called "wash still". In this bubble the alcohol is vaporized and rises into the swan-shaped neck of the still, condenses and flows into the cooler. The raw whisky, also called "low wines", is filled into the second still ("low wines still") and distilled once more. During a final inspection, also called "spirit safe", the purity of the alcohol is checked. The foreshot and feints are separated from the middle cut or heart and distilled again to filter out impurities. Finally, only the clear middle cut, which has an alcohol content of about 65-70% and is diluted with water to an optimal alcohol content of 63%, is filled into barrels.
Barrels and storage
In most distilleries, bottling takes place at fixed intervals. The following rule applies: the larger the barrel, the slower the maturing process, as there is less contact surface with the wood. Traditionally, former sherry or bourbon barrels with a size of 500 liters are used for this. In order to achieve a special taste, former wine barrels are also used. The use of oak barrels is prescribed by law, as is the minimum maturing time. In Scotland and Ireland the minimum maturation period is 3 years, in the USA however only 2 years. But also the producers know - the longer the maturing time - the better the final product.