As you may have heard in my recent Father’s Day article, I have something of a tendency to give my dad bottles of whisky for every occasion! I’m not sure why that was as he has never been an avid fan…
Regardless, there’s always been something fascinating about these drinks. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned appearance, their luxury aesthetic or simply the fact that people tend to look cooler with a small glass in hand? Either way, I decided to do some research and discover a bit more about the whisky landscape.
It turns out that there’s so much to consider when it comes to these drinks!
With my interest piqued, I decided to look into the world of British whisky drinks and see how this all started, why it’s remained a popular choice and some things to look out for if you’re interested in trying whisky for yourself.
A History of Whisky
The art of distilling alcohol actually dates back to 13th-century Italy, when it was commonly used for medicinal purposes. Back then, these alcohol solutions were called aqua vitae, which is Latin for “the water of life” – quite an appropriate title, I’m sure some will say!
As the technique spread throughout Medieval Europe, diverse cultures used different ingredients to produce alcohol, leading to the various drinks we have today.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the earliest records of whisky production place its origins in Scotland and Ireland. The name comes from the Irish translation of aqua vitae, uisce beatha, which slowly morphed into whisky over the centuries.
15th and 16th-century records speak about the trade of aqua vitae in Scotland, while the oldest distillery in the world can be found in Northern Ireland, dating back to 1608!
What Makes Whisky Special?
So what makes whisky different from everything else? The primary ingredient in these drinks is known as grain mash, where various grains are mixed and boiled to create a liquid called wort. These grains are sometimes malted beforehand – hence malted whisky!
In its earliest years, whisky didn’t go through an ageing process; however, it is now famous for how it is aged in wooden casks.
Various countries have now started to produce their own regional whiskies, with variations as far-flung as Japan now increasing in popularity. However, for many whisky drinkers, there’s nothing quite like the original Scotch whisky.
Scotch Whisky is a protected and much-adored form of the drink, produced only in Scotland using specific ingredients and procedures that are specified by law. Commonly, Scotch whisky is made from malted barley which must be aged for a minimum of three years, although many are aged for longer.
One of the most prominent characteristics of whisky in comparison to similar alcohols is its trademark bite. However, beyond this, the taste possibilities are almost endless! Even in Scotland, there are different whisky ‘regions’ which are known for smoother, smokier or sweeter.
Comparisons are often made between whisky and its cousin, Bourbon, an American whisky that is made from corn. Bourbon tends to be a sweeter drink, while whisky in comparison has a distinct smokiness.
Where to Start with Whisky
If you’re interested in trying the taste of a British or Scotch whisky for the first time, then you’ll want to make sure you take the right first steps and don’t leave your tastebuds singed!
To ensure you’re not overwhelmed by the tastes at first, it pays to opt for a whisky with a lower alcohol percentage, usually 40%. Having it in a tumbler without ice is often the best way to experience the taste, but if it is a little too strong still, then consider a dash of water or a cube of ice.
It might seem weird, but part of the whisky tasting experience involves smell. Taking the time to enjoy the aroma of the drink will help you understand the distinct, complex flavours that whisky can create!
If you ever try whisky for yourself, let me know how it goes!