The Saga of Scotch Whisky
“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it's time to drink.” - Haruki Murakami
Well, this sophisticated elixir is certainly a gentleman's drink that one can't help but admire! Let's take a walk back in time to unravel the rich history of this incredible concoction.
As history suggests, the foremost recorded mention of Scotch Whisky was found in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494 and was used more for medicinal purposes than as a beverage. Hmmm no wonder it literally means 'water of life'! It's hard to imagine that this delicious smoky drink was used for something other than pleasuring the palate and taste buds! I suppose every avid Scotch lover would still subscribe to the same train of thought.
Scotch Whisky, or ‘Scotch’ - as most of us often like to refer to it, is a strong spirit, with elements like cereals, water and yeast. The ingredients sound like breakfast right?
Throughout history it has undergone complexities in processes like refining and distillation. And our magnificent drink has survived it all - taxes, cumbersome government regulation and smuggling! By the 1700s, it had become a commercial industry, the joys of which we are reaping even today. Whisky’s smoothness and drinkability increased during the 1800s. Post this, a lot has changed and a lot remained as it was. Just as in any field, even though technology has created a greater variety of products. At the end of the day, refiners are still in the business of turning something as plain as barley and water into a tasty concoction!
Trivia Nugget: "Whiskey” is different from “whisky”. Whisky without an “e” only describes the ones from Scotland; all others are spelled whiskey.
It's All About the Perfecting the Art
Scotch Whisky production process is subtle and involves minimal efforts. Did we say minimal? Tempted to produce your own batch? Well, the process is simple but intricate.
Malting: First step of malting requires soaking of barley in water which germinates in a week. Following which it is spread out on the malting floor for converting to maltose, a sugar. The malted barley is dried using the smoke from an underground furnace.
Mashing: With the consistency of oatmeal namely ‘grist’, the dried malt is then ground into a course flour which is later mixed with hot water and pumped into a vessel called "mash tun" where the water and ground malt is thoroughly mixed and left to steep.
Fermentation: Next comes the critical process of fermentation. In a large wooden or steel vessels called "washbacks", the sugary liquid is drawn off, pumped and left to ferment after combining it with yeast. This contributes to flavour. The resulting liquid is anywhere from 5-8% alcohol and is called "wash".
Distillation: The wash is distilled twice. The first round close to the wine family is called Wash Still and the second Spirit Still.
Maturation: The partial Scotch is matured in oak barrels, or casks. This is one step that most are familiar with ...often seen in glossy advertisements! The whisky becomes smoother, increases in flavour and starts to retain the golden colour of the barrel during aging. Maturation can be anywhere from 3 - 20 years.
5 steps and voila ... a batch of the ultimate elixir!
Trivia Nugget: To be considered as “Scotch”, it must be aged in Scotland for at least three years.
Image Credit: elysium-uk.com
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