Everything started with a Whisky survey in the streets of Edinburgh. «What is your favorite Whisky?» I asked and I got the following answers:
James, 57: «I like the Famous Grouse»
Ian, 39: «Jura is the best for me because of its honey taste»
Peter, 48: «Definitely Glenmorangie, because it’s light and smooth»
Ivy, 70: «I drink Bells»
Ed, 26: «Laphroaig is my favorite one»
Even though we are in that country of Whisky, I heard very often: «I don’t drink Whisky.» But what’s the secret of the special flavours? Why does every Whisky taste different even when the ingredients are totally the same? That’s what I asked to Mark Davidson, Manager of the Cadenhead’s.
The Whiskies from the different regions also have different tastes, but «It’s not because of the land, it’s because of the practice» Mark explains. In some parts they use peat for drying the barley, especially on Islay. So the grain absorbs the smoke of the peat and makes Whisky taste more peaty. In the Lowlands for example it gets dried by electricity or other fuels. «That is one of the biggest influences.» Another one is the cask. In Scotch production you don’t use new casks. Almost 90 per cent of the casks come from the US. They have been used there for Bourbon. But you can use casks from other countries as well, which have had different usage. In France they used them for Claret (a French wine) or Cognac, in Spain for Sherry storage, and around the Mediterranean for rum production. That further use creates some of the flavours. The second point is, that casks in the US are always white oak (in Spain they also use red oak) and they are smaller than those in Europe, the thickness of the wood is different too. But also the preparation of the casks is really important. The Americans burn the barrel inside, to keep the wood in shape. It creates a surface of carbon, but behind it is pure wood. It is hot during burning and it melts and creates vanilla flavours. The Spanish ones are toasted, so the wood isn’t that hot and it doesn’t create that vanilla.
These facts are the biggest influence if you use a cask for the first time for Whisky. If you use it a second time, it needs more time to get the same flavour. «First time it may be 8 years, next time it may be 12 or 15, and the next it may be 18, 21, 25 years, that the Whisky properly mature», Mark explains. «So if you keep using Sherry casks which have never been used before for Whisky, your Whisky will be quite similar.» Normally there are recipes, which help to ensure that the flavour stays the same. So maybe you use 10 percent first filled Sherry casks, 30 percent third used Bourbon and so on. And that creates a Single Malt.
One more influence of the Whisky taste is the wash still and its design. You can design it so that the steam which comes off, falls down again because the lyne arm is quite steep. Or it goes over very quickly. If steam goes into liquid very slowly it creates a light Whisky. In fermentation you can use dry yeast or you can use liquid yeast. And that will also have an influence on the taste of the whisky.
So you see, there are so many things which affect to the Whisky flavour. And there are not only the Single Malt Whiskies, there are also Blends. They will be created by a Blender mixing Whiskies with different flavours, different ages and different quality into one. Malt Whiskies are mixed with Grained Whiskies. A Grained Whisky differs in production, it’s faster. That’s also the reason why Single Malts are more expensive. But Grained Whiskies are lighter and also sweeter, so for Blends you mix them with the heavy Single Malts to produce a less intense Whisky. In Scotland there are 100 Malt Whisky distilleries, so there are between 200 and 500 Single Malts with different flavours. Additionally there are 8 Grain distilleries, which produce a great deal more Whisky than all Malt distilleries in total. So there are hundreds of Blended Whiskies as well.
Mark, do you have a favorite Whisky as well? I asked him. «No» was the surprising answer. «It depends on your mood and of the cause when you drink.»
So you should find one you like. If not, you will be the one who says: «I don’t drink Whisky.»
by Martine Rammer
Team Citytravelreview Edinburgh March/April 2012