Celebrating the Scottish poet with a wee dram?
The Bard of Ayrshire himself would approve!
by Monique Ippolito
As a young female professional, I oftentimes surprise people with my knowledge and enthusiasm for whisky. Most of us, even myself back in the day, saw whisky as a masculine drink with an exclusively mature following. How could you not? The price alone steers younger buyers for away from it and the assumptions surrounding its sophistication and expected following are hugely intimidating. Then I learned that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I have always had a great curiosity for history and during my whisky enlightenment I came to realize how this water of life has such multidimensional characteristics that it doesn’t just intrigue our senses, but also our minds. Learning about its history, how it’s made, how geography affects it and, of course, what it tastes like has perhaps brought me to appreciate it decades before my time.
First of all, when I learned that whisky is distilled beer, my mind was blown! In this very concise summary of how it’s made, perhaps your mind may be blown too.
- Malting Barley – The initial process begins with steeping barley to promote the grain’s conversion of starches to sugar. After the germ reaches 2/3 of the length of the grain (4-5 day process), this process is interrupted by heat to stop germination and dry the malt (with or without peat). The dried malt is then ground to a coarse grist and used to make ‘distilling beer’ – a liquid with about 4-9% alcohol by volume called wash.
- Distillation – This wash (distilling beer) is then distilled in pot still call the wash still to separate alcohol from yeast, water & other items. This process creates what is called ‘low wines’ in the distilling world, which then gets transferred and redistilled in a second pot called the spirit still. The vapours produced are condensed back to liquid form and boom! Whisky is made! The run is carefully fractioned between the: foreshots/heads (harshest flavour compounds), centre cuts/hearts (ideal liquids) & feints/tails (lighter flavour compounds).
- Maturation – This new make liquid is colourless and watered down to 63.5% alcohol by volume, then aged in oak barrels. These oak barrels are typically ex-bourbon (93% of Scotch), ex-sherry or refill barrels. In Scotland, whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years. The new make whisky will take on flavour & colour of the barrels and overtime, the alcohol will evaporate and mellow out – a phenomenon known a angel’s share.
Note: any bottle of whisky displaying an age statements on its label must be the minimum age of the barrel maturation that whisky.
After oak aging, the whisky is blended and bottled. Some producers will experiment with “cask finishing” features to add a little edge to their whisky. Finally, whisky will be whisky is watered down to a minimum 40% alcohol by volume when bottled. Do look out for cask strength whiskies though. They could be pretty fun to try!
Where ever you may be in your discovery, here are four pleasant whiskies that will take you on a tour of Scotland. Give it a try and notice how you may come to appreciate this spirit in a whole new light.
Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt
LCBO #720532 | $79.85
Gaelic for “corner of the field”
Appearance: Deep copper to medium brown / bright & clear / no discernable hue
|Fruit||dried: apricots, figs, dates
citrus: orange zest
|Spice||cloves, anise, white pepper||baking spices|
|Nutty||almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts||walnuts|
|Other||Plastic, rubber (initial)|
Flavours: sweetness (burnt sugar), sweet smoke, toasted nuts, cereal, baking spices
Finish: medium to long with lasting maple, nuts, cinnamon flavours
- Med Bodied with integrated to smooth alcohol
- Rich & Round Flavour Camp (Dave Broom)
- Hails for the Scottish Lowlands
This whisky is actually triple distilled arguably crafting a smoother, delicate Scotch with cleaner fruit/sweetness notes; and matured in three different types of barrels: Bourbon > Oloroso Sherry > Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Bowmore 12 Single Malt
LCBO #330803 | $59.95
Appearance: Deep gold / bright & clear / no discernable hue
|Fruit||citrus: lemon, dried apricot||artificial lemon|
|Herbaceous||seaweed, grassy, pine|
|Peaty||medicinal, earthy, smoke|
|Other||earthy, salty brine||cereal|
Flavours: salted caramel, orange peel, black pepper, dried fruits, nuts
Finish: medium with lasting nutty, sweet smoke, black pepper & sea salt flavours
- Med bodied with integrated alcohol
- Smoky & Peaty flavour camp (Dave Broom)
- Hails from the Scotland’s Islay
Bowmore actually has their own malting facility!
Balvenie 12 Double Wood Single Malt
LCBO #387306 | $89.95
Appearance: Deep gold to medium copper / bright and clear/ no discernable hue
|Sweetness||caramel, vanilla, honey|
|Fruit||cooked: orange marmalade, pear, apple
dried: dates, apricots
Flavours: roasted nuts, chewy cereal, orange, pear, sweet smoke
Finish: medium with lasting roasted nut, cereal & sweet smoke flavours
- Med bodied with integrated to smooth alcohol
- Fruity & Spicy flavour camp (David Broom)
- Hails from the Scottish Speyside
Balvenie also has their own malting facility
Chivas 12 Blended Scotch
LCBO #7617 | 52.95
Appearance: Medium gold / bright and clear/ no discernable hue
|Sweetness||caramel, sweet smoke||sweet smoke|
|Fruit||citrus: orange peel|
Flavours: cereal, orange peel, cinnamon, touch green (green fruit)
Finish: med-short with lasting cereal, sweet smoke flavours
- Light bodied with integrated alcohol
- Fruity & Spicy flavour camp (Dave Broom)
- This is a Blended Scotch
So, start exploring yourself and discover your own preferences for whisky. It comes in many styles from all over the world so there is much to learn!