World Whisk(e)y Day
Every May around the world there’s a day dedicated to the enjoyment and celebration of one of the world’s greatest creations – whisky.
This year, World Whisky Day falls on 21 May and events will be happening far and wide. So, to get into the spirit, here’s Take Stock’s guide to all things whisky, compiled with the help of Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender – Richard Paterson.
What’s in a name?
The word whisky derives from the Gaelic ‘uisge beathe’ meaning ‘water of life’.
E or no E?
Around 1870 a lot of Scotch whisky was poorly distilled. Irish distillers exporting to America wanted to differentiate their product from the poorer Scotch whisky so added an ‘e’ to the spelling. In that market and in Ireland it remains the default spelling, while for most of the rest of the world, Scotland’s greatest export is spelt whisky.
What’s ‘Hot’ in the on-trade?
Malts – showing sales growth of 20% over the year, thanks to innovative launches of single cask and limited editions that entice drinkers to experiment.
Irish whiskeys – names like Bushmills, Tullamore Dew and Jameson’s are being joined by smaller, niche Irish whiskey brands, all helping to fuel consumer desire. The drinks-led pubs sector is now the largest for Irish whiskey at 22.3% of value sales.
American whiskeys – where consumer demand for premium brands allied to the launch of a number of flavoured bourbons have really caught the imagination of seasoned as well as new-to-the-category whiskey drinkers. Offerings like Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire from Jack Daniels and a whole range of Jim Beam flavours are proving immensely popular, both by themselves and in cocktails.
Whisky is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mashes. Different grains give different tastes, as does the ageing process – which is typically done in charred oak casks. The main Scotch whisky types and styles are:
Blended whisky: A mixture of different types of whisky, not necessarily from just one distillery. It’s the blend of different whiskies that gives a brand their character and taste.
Blended malt: A mixture of single malts from different distilleries.
Single malt: A whisky from a single distillery made from a mash that comes from just one grain. The blending of whisky from a variety of casks and maturities allows the blender to achieve the desired signature taste, which can then be replicated year on year.
Single cask: Whisky that comes from an individual cask. This means that while carrying the name of a particular brand, the taste can vary considerably between different casks.
Cask strength: Rarely seen, these are among the very best whiskies and are bottled from the cask undiluted or only slightly diluted.
No one’s sure who invented whisky – candidates include the Romans and the Egyptians. What is sure is that nowadays whiskey is distilled around the globe.
There are award-winning Australian whiskies and distilleries in Denmark and England. The Germans and Scandinavian’s are known for their strong cask strength whiskies and Indian drinkers consume more whisky than the rest of the world put together – much of it molasses based.
Japanese whiskies have a reputation for quality and are modelled on single malted barley Scotch and pot stilled. Top names include Suntory and Nikka.
Canadian whisky production stems from roots established by Scottish settlers and received a massive boost during the era of American prohibition where bootleggers including Al Capone ran Canadian whisky into the US – establishing a taste for brands like Canadian Club, Seagram’s and Crown Royal that persist to this day.
Finally American whiskey, where Bourbon (made from mash that’s 51%+ maize); Rye whiskey (51%+ rye) and Corn whiskey (80%+ corn) are long established tastes. Tennessee whiskeys such as Jack Daniels are produced in the same way as bourbons, save for being filtered through charcoal under strict regulation.
Scotland exports whisky to over 200 different countries 90-92% of which are blended whiskies
Whisky stored in barrels tends to evaporate at the rate of 2% per annum. This is known in the trade as ‘The Angel’s Share’
The right glass
Master blender Richard is unequivocal about the need to use the right glass. “You have to be able to get your nose right into the glass, without leaving room to insert a finger. You MUST offer your customers the right glass, which means either a stemmed ‘Copita’ or a less showy ‘Glencairn’ – 16 million of which have been produced over the years!”
The right drinking technique
”Whisky takes a long time to produce, so it’s expensive. You need to take your time. Pour a little into the glass. Swirl it around. Admire the clarity and colour. Stick your nose right into the glass and spend 20 seconds just taking in the aroma. Then put the glass down. Bring the glass up to your nose a second, then a third time – you’ll discover different nuances and aromas every time. Then taste. Hold the whisky on top of your tongue, then under, then in the middle. Spend 20 seconds taking in the texture. It’s the tongue that allows you to taste. Flavour comes from the nose. Use both to savour every element of the whisky you’re trying. The golden rule is simple – Sip. Savour. Revere.”
“Neat whisky should be served at room temperature. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding water, indeed cask strength whiskies – which can often exceed 60% ABV – actually benefit from a few drops of water, as they allow the drinker to better appreciate taste and flavour. However, if adding water, make sure it’s at room temperature and just add small drops at a time. You’re looking for a point where you’re enjoying the whisky’s taste and dimension without getting rawness or a burning sensation. Some drinkers like to have their whisky over ice. In fact, some whiskies like many of the American flavoured ones are designed to be enjoyed ‘on the rocks’. Just remember that ice doesn’t do anything for whisky like top quality single malt – it masks and bruises it. I’d be really upset to think that someone was adding ice to one of our aged Dalmore’s!”
“Top mixologists have created some beautiful whisky cocktails that take tastes into another dimension. Just think of classics like the Rob Roy or Rusty Nail. All I plead is that any whisky cocktail you offer customers has no more than four ingredients, so the whisky element isn’t lost.”
Helping customers get started
“There’s a whole new range of flavoured whiskies and cocktail ideas out there, so there’s a taste combination for everyone. People are looking for new taste and drinking experiences and they’re prepared to pay for that pleasure. However, if you’ve a customer asking for advice on how to appreciate Scotch whisky then I’d strongly advise you look at offering a Lowland whisky, which tend to be fresh, light and fragrant. Then encourage them to move up. So go Speyside, then Highland – years of taste experimentation pleasure there. Then, finally, take your customer into the world of Islay whiskies. Peat, seaweed, salt spray. Pure heaven.”
Visit www.worldwhiskyday.com for more details including holding your own event.