Saturday, March 6, 2010

Scotch

Introduction
From its earliest days, scotch has been known for its curative and creative properties. It evolved into a unique cultural icon of the people who savoured it. Who can ever forget the distinctive bottle of VAT 69 in a Hindi movie. Today scotch is enjoying yet another revival as a cultural icon.

Legend has it that the ancient Celts knew how to distill grains at least as far back as 800 B.C. Given that they lacked the climate to grow the more fragile grapevines, they used cereals such as barley and rye. Those Celts viewed their fiery brew as a gift from their gods that literally brought the dead to life and warmed even the coldest spirit. In fact, in Celtic whisky is called "uisge beatha" (ooshka baha)-the water of life.

What is Whisky ?
A spirituous liquor distilled from a fermented mash of grains, usually rye, barley, oats, wheat, or corn, and matured in wood casks, usually for three or more years. Inferior grades are made from potatoes, beets, or other roots.

From Scotland and Ireland in the 1400's, to the United States and Canada during Colonial times and to the rest of the world as its popularity grew, Scotch has become a popular libation for any occasion. Yet each culture has placed its stamp on this "aqua vitae" and each is sought out for its particular character.

How it's made

The basis of every scotch whisky is barley. During the malting process, barley is soaked in water for two or three days, then spread out to germinate for a week or so. During germination, enzymes turn the starch in the barley into soluble sugars - which is nice.
When the green malt begins to sprout, it is dried in a "kiln" to halt the germination process. The peat that is traditionally used to fire the drying process gives the malted barley its characteristic taste. Malts from the island of Islay, for example, derive a very distinct peaty character from the 'reek' (= peat smoke).
At the mashing stage hot water is added to the 'grist' (= milled malt) in a large vessel called a mash tun. Here, the starch in the barley is converted further into fermentable sugars. The liquid that is drained off as a result of this process is called the ' wort', which later will grow into whisky. During the fermentation the sugars in the wort are converted into alcohol by the addition of special yeast strains in a fermentation vessel, the 'Wash Back'. After 2 to 4 days, the result is the fermented 'wash' (7 to 10 Alc.%).

During the distillation stage of producing a single malt, the wash is boiled in a copper 'wash still', and distilled two (or even three) times. Alcohol boils more rapidly than water, so the vapors from the still can be collected as they condense back to alcohol. This first distillation produces 'low wines' , around 10 - 20 Alc. %

It is said that the shape and size of the copper pot still have a great influence on the whisky. The shape of the pot stills is sometimes the most characteristic part of a distillery

The second distillation often occurs in a special, smaller 'spirit still' . Within every distillation, the liquor is divided into three 'cuts' of which only the second, 'the heart of the run', will be used. The first fraction ('heads') and last fraction ('tails') will be re-distilled together with the next batch of low wines. Finally, at the maturation stage, the heart of the run (a clear liquid of up to 70 Alc. %) chosen by the 'stillman' is stored in oak casks for a minimum of three years. This minimum is set by law, but usually the malt gets a chance to develop much longer. You can read more about this in Aging and Maturation.


Very often,the whisky is "chill filtered" before bottling.The only reason for this bump in the production process is that a single malt becomes a little hazy when it's refrigerated. Unfortunately, this filtering also means that the original taste and texture of the malt is damaged to some extent.

A barrel of malt whisky usually contains some 500 litres of spirit. As a result of evaporation, the rough spirit will annually lose up to 2 percent alcohol while it matures. This means that after 12 years there are only about 400 litres left. The "street value" of a barrel of a good standard single malt is around 20,000.- Euro's / U$ Dollars.

Grain Whisky is produced by a largely industrial process. Its raw ingredients are Barley and other grains such as corn or maize. What is produced is a white spirit with very little flavour. The spirit is placed in oak casks and only when it has been stored for three years can it legally be called Whisky. Grain Whisky is generally regarded as the bulking agent for Blended Whisky with the character of the Blend coming from the Malt Whisky which is mixed with it.

Aging and Maturation

Aging is a fairly complex process, which adds richness, flavour and texture to whisky. It is surrounded by a lot of mystique and people who oversee this process are really valued. During aging the spirit loses some of its harshness and acquires the natural aromas of its environment. Thus a whisky that is aged near the sea may be different from one aged near a mountain meadow. Flavours can also result from the cask itself. Thus a whisky which is aged in a cask that previously contained sherry would taste different from one that was aged in a rum cask.


Whisky matures only in casks and not in bottles. So all of you who've bought a bottle of Cardhu 10 years old four years ago and are hoping that age will do something to your liquor, please drink it now. In Scotland and Ireland the spirit has to be at least three years old to be called Whisky.



Originally Casks were used to just store whisky and the property of whisky to improve with age could only be appreciated by those who bought and stocked large amounts of casks. Scientific maturation only began in the 19th century.

The oak wood is used for casks that are used for aging and distilleries may own thousands of casks. Scotland has few sources of wood (during the infamous Clearances, reluctant clansmen were displaced by the simple expedient of the laird burning the wooden roof beam of their houses) and most wood is imported. With the depletion of forests in England, the Whisky manufacturers had to look elsewhere. In those days it was trendy for the English upper classes to consume sherry and empty sherry casks were available in plenty. Not only were these cheap (which is what may have attracted them to the Scots in the first place) they also imparted a rich flavour to the spirits which were aged in them. As sherry consumption decreased, sherry casks were replaced with casks that had been used to age Bourbon.

And that's how air, water, earth and fire transform into the "water of life" you can find at a store near you. Just like a fine wine, a single malt whisky is formed by a lot of different influences, like the kind of water at the distillery, the shape of the pot stills, the type of wood that is used for maturation and the time that the spirit stays in the barrel.

Grain Whisky is produced by a largely industrial process. Its raw ingredients are Barley and other grains such as corn or maize. What is produced is a white spirit with very little flavour. The spirit is placed in oak casks and only when it has been stored for three years can it legally be called Whisky. Grain Whisky is generally regarded as the bulking agent for Blended Whisky with the character of the Blend coming from the Malt Whisky which is mixed with it.

Regions

Whisky types can be clubbed by region of production. These distinctions would however emerge only if you were to sample Single Malts as Blends tend to marry different flavours.

The main regions that you are likely to run into when you hit the Malt trail are :-
1. Speyside
2. Highland
3. Islay
4. Kintyre peninsula (Campbeltown)

1. Speyside
The important region of 'Speyside' is a modern sub-division of Highland. Prior to World War II many of the distilleries in this area adopted the appellation 'Glenlivet' (which is a small glen on Speyside) - by tagging it onto the distillery name. The whiskies of Glenlivet had established a reputation by the 18th century - even though they were made outside the law!

Pronounciation of Scotch Names
>Aberlour - Aber-lower
>Auchentoshan- Ochentoshen
>Auchroisk- Othrusk
>Bruichladdich- Brew-ich-laddie
>Bunnahabhain- Boon-a-havun
>Caol Ila- Kaal-eea
>Cardhu- Kar-doo
>Clynelish- Klyn-leesh
>Dailuaine- Dall-Yewan
>Drumguish- Drum-oo-ish
>Glen Garioch- Glen Gee-ree
>Glenmorangie- Glen-Mranjee
>Knockdhu- Nock-doo
>Laphroaig- La-froyg
>Ledaig- Led-chig
>Pittyvaich- Pitt-ee-vay-ich
>Strathisla- Strath-eye-la
>Teaninich- Tee-an-inich
>Tomintoul- Tomin-towel
>Tullibardine- Tully-bard-eye-n


Today over half of Scotland's malt whisky distilleries are on Speyside, and as a result the region itself has been carved up by commentators, either according to the rivers running through it or by its principle districts. The latter course has been adapted and the whiskies made in or around Elgin, the Upper Spey, Dufftown and Glenrothes, will be considered as well as Glenlivet itself.

2. The Highlands
This is the predominant geographical feature of Scotland and also the biggest area in terms of production of Scotch Whisky.
The main areas of production are centered around the Eastern Highlands (between Inverness and Aberdeen) and Speyside (now a separate "region') may be the capital of whisky production. The Western Highlands have few distilleries and Oban, which is one of the world's best known Single Malts originates here. The Northern Highlands have some distilleries as well and Glenmorangie and Highland Park (the northernmost distillery in the world) are from this region.

3. Islay
The Island of Islay (pronounced 'Eye-la') is the southernmost of the Western Isles, and lies on the eastern side of Kintyre. It is flat and green and very largely composed of peat - the water on the island is brown with it.
Winter gales drive salt spray far inland, and this saturates the peat, which is dried again by the briny, seaweedy breeze. All these characteristics go into the whiskies of Islay, to a greater or lesser extent. Lagavulin is the pick of the pack from here.
4. Kintyre peninsula (Campbeltown)
The Kintyre peninsula - that long green finger which points towards Ireland - is the most southerly point on the West Coast. It was a haven for illicit distillers in days gone by. Some go so far as to claim that the art of distilling arrived here with the first Gaels from Ireland, in the 6th century.

Campbeltown, the only township of any size in Kintyre, was certainly one of the first centres of commercial distilling, and Campbeltown whiskies themselves had a reputation to rival Speyside. Between 1880 and the 1920s, there were thirty-four working distilleries here, producing some 2 million gallons of spirit per annum. Campbeltown vied with Elgin as 'the whisky capital'. Today there are only two distilleries, Springbank and Glen Scotia.

5. Lowland
The region embraces the mainland of Scotland south of the Central Belt (a line drawn between the Forth and Loch Lomond). There was a time, in the 1850s, when every town of any size in the Lowlands had its distillery, to supply the English market as well as local demands. For the style of Lowland whisky is much lighter than Highland, with little or no peating, and this had much broader appeal. By the 1880s almost the entire production of the Lowland distilleries went for blending: today, it is possible (and more cost effective) to create Highland malts with a light character to suit the requirements of blenders. The principal distilleries are Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie.

What’s in a name? - The story behind your favourite Single Malt

GLENLIVET
The Name Glenlivet origins from the word Livet, which is the name of the river in the valley (Glen), where Glenlivet is produced because according to the founder George Smith it was the perfect location for production of whisky. The place had all of nature’s essentials for making the finest malt whisky – barley, peat and a copious supply of good, clean water – were all abundant.

GLENMORANGIE (Glen-Moranjee)
The whisky was named after the peaceful land; William Matheson (the founder) loved. In Gaelic, the ancient language of Scotland, ‘Glenmorangie’ means ‘Valley of Tranquility’.

GLENFIDDICH
The Distillery of Glenfiddich was started in 1886 in the valley of the River Fiddich. The glen of the river Fiddich gives its name to the biggest-selling single malt whisky in the world. The Glenfiddich distillery is on the small river whose name it bears. In Gaelic it means ‘Valley of the deer’ and indeed a stag is the company's emblem.

CARDHU
In 1811 John and Helen Cumming sited their first still at Cardow Farm on Mannoch Hill, high above the River Spey. At this location, spring water, naturally softened by rising up through a layer of peat, bubbled from the ground. Cardhu has made a unique contribution to the success of Johnnie Walker Blends. In 1893 when the Walker family wanted to guarantee the quality of their Blends, at a time of rapid growth, they negotiated the purchase of Cardhu Distillery from Elizabeth Cumming to secure supplies for blending.

TALISKER
Talisker- the inimitable Island malt whisky. It is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, and takes its name from a farm some miles away near the village of Carbost.

HIGHLAND PARK
The distillery was founded in 1798. The name of this whisky does not refer to the area of Scotland known as The Highlands, from which the Orkney Islands are excluded, but rather to the fact that the distillery was founded on an area distinguished from a lower area nearby. It was originally known as High Park, later officially renamed Highland Park as we know it now.

KNOCKANDO
Foremost among the distilleries along the banks of the chill, clear waters of the Spey stands Knockando. Built by John Thompson in 1898 the Knockando distillery lies in the village of the same name, derived from the Gaelic ‘Cnoc-an-dhu,’ meaning ‘little black hill.’

ROYAL LOCHNAGAR (pronounced “loshnagar”)
Distillery was actually established in 1845 by a man who may have originally been involved in illicit whisky. In fact, the prefix "Royal" was added after a visit to the distillery by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848. During this visit and tour, the owner, John Begg, persuaded the royal couple to try a dram. They apparently were very impressed and awarded Mr. Begg a royal warrant and permission to use the name Royal Lochnagar. It was named ‘Lochnagar’ after a mountain in the Grampians of Scotland, located about five miles south of the River Dee near Balmoral where the distillery is located.

THE SINGLETON
The Singleton single malt is distilled at Auchroisk Distillery. The malt was given the "Singleton" name because the anticipated difficulty, on the part of the consumer, of pronouncing the name of the distillery. Auchroisk, pronounced "orth-rusk," means "ford of the red stream" in Gaelic.

BENRINNES
Ben Rinnes (simply known as "The Ben" by locals) is a mountain in the region of Moray, Scotland. The beautiful and distinctive outline of Ben Rinnes (840m, 2775ft) is one of the best loved landmarks in Banff shire. Benrinnes Distillery was established in the 1820s and was built 700 feet (213 meters) above sea level on the northern slopes of the mountain of the same name which dominates eastern Speyside.

COAL ILA
Caol Ila (pronounced "cull-eela") was built in 1846 by Hector Henderson and lies peacefully in the Port of Askaig overlooking the Sound of Islay on the Northeast shore of Islay. Caol Ila means "Sound of Islay," in Gaelic, which is the body of water that separates Islay from the Isle of Jura.

BOWMORE
Some 400 years after the name Bowmore first appeared in history books, the jury’s still out on its origins. Some would have it that the name refers to the little black reef just outside Loch Indaal, the scene of so many shipwrecks over the years. Others believe the place was originally called Poll-mor meaning great pool, which incoming Lowlanders corrupted into Bowmore - or perhaps it derives from the Norse Bogha Mor, meaning sunken rock. If truth be told, we’ll probably never know.

BRUICHLADDICH
Bruichladdich (try ‘Brook-Laddie’) is a Gaelic reference to the ‘raised beach’ upon which the distillery is sited, on the Hebridean Isle of Islay, on Scotland’s Wild West coast. Built in 1881 by William Harvey and his brothers.

GLENFARCLAS
Situated in the heart of Speyside – malt whisky country – Glenfarclas, translated from the Gaelic as “Glen of the green grassland”, nestles at the foot of the Ben Rinnes Mountain. The distillery is owned by the Grant family since 1865, making it truly independent.