There can be few alcoholic drinks that split opinion quite so much as whisky. Most drinkers either love it or detest it, and to those who don’t drink the smell is reported to be fairly disgusting. And for a drink which possibly has more different varieties than any other spirit, it’s fair to say that most whisky drinkers will usually drink only a handful of favoured brands.
It may come as some surprise to discover that there are over a dozen countries around the planet which make some kind of whisky (or whiskey as it is sometimes spelt). In the UK, almost everyone would probably think of Scotch first, followed by the Irish and American/Canadian brands, but would be hard pushed to name many of the other nations who make their own whisky.
Whisky production in Scotland and Ireland started around nine hundred years ago. The recipe used various kinds of grain as its vital ingredient, mostly due to the distinct lack of grapes in the British Isles – peculiar to think that whisky might not even exist if vines had been growing in the area at the time! The word whisky/whiskey originated from the old Gaelic languages and literally means ‘water of life’, a title which many fans of the drink would probably find extremely appropriate, despite the fact that after a night out along with a bottle of the liquor there are probably many people who declare that that they will need Laser eye surgery in order to ever see anything properly again. But never fear, the effects of feeling like something has been flashing a Laser eye beam in your face will wear off in the end!
In the early decades of production, whisky was drunk without leaving it to mature, and in all probability tasted truly disgusting. The smooth flavours that drinkers love so much today are largely the result of the spirit being permitted to mature in the cask for a few years. This is also the reason why bottles decanted from longer matured casks will often be more expensive to buy. However, hiding a bottle of whisky in the bar for a decade won’t make any difference to the drink – once it’s drawn from the cask the flavour will not change again, and quite honestly, leaving a bottle of whisky tucked away in a cupboard is totally wrong – it is meant to be drunk and enjoyed.
In centuries gone by, whisky was utilised for medicinal purposes to treat a variety of health conditions, and still can allegedly provide help in reducing the effects of colds and sore throats. Naturally there aren’t any doctors today who would be permitted to actually prescribe it, it is true that during the years of prohibition in America, whisky was exempt from the ban on alcohol sales as long as it was prescribed by a doctor and purchased from a licenced pharmacy! Naturally there are a lot of health issues connected to extreme alcohol consumption, but research projects do regularly state that a little drink occasionally can actually assist in keeping certain ailments at bay.
There are a number of different kinds of whisky, depending on several variables like where it is made, how it is produced and which ingredients are used, but the big difference that most casual whisky imbibers know about is the difference between a blended whisky and a single malt. Blended whisky is just that – a mixture of whiskies from a selection of distilleries. These whiskies are generally identifiable as they only sell under a brand name instead of referring to a particular distillery on the label. Single malt is made by using whiskies from one distillery only, although they won’t all be from the same cask. Single cask whiskies are also bottled, but can often differ from cask to cask so the flavour will not be consistent from one bottle to the next.
In the past, whisky has always been considered a man’s drink, although growing numbers of women are listing it as their favourite drink. This provides the manufacturers with a massive target market to tap into and it will be interesting to see how the product is advertised in the future. Let’s stay optimistic that the adverts do not suddenly become films of girlie drinking sessions, shot in glitzy night clubs with flashing lights and Laser eye beams, depicting a bunch of perfect looking women with their French manicures, cosmetically enhanced bodies, Laser eye surgery corrected vision, and designer clothes sipping Scotch on the rocks. That would be so very wrong!