Enjoyed by millions throughout the world, whisky is synonymous with history, luxury… and Scotland! It might seem strange then, that so few of us understand the origins of the spirit. Admittedly I knew very little about it, but after visiting the distillery in Edinburgh with my parents a few years back I learnt a lot more about the spirit.
In this article we’ll provide five facts to impress your friends with at your next whisky tasting session!
1. Origins: the word we use comes from the Gaelic word “uisge beatha” and translates as the ‘water of life’ – and the modern word wasn’t in use until around 1715. After a Malt Tax passed by the English in 1725, taxes were so high that distilleries in Scotland were shut down or forced to operate in secret with whisky hidden in any available space including coffins and altars! In America, Whiskey was actually used as currency during the American Revolution and indeed there was a Whisky Rebellion in 1791 due to additional taxes.
2. Revenue: whisky production is a lucrative business and sales last year were in the region of no less than £3.86 billion pounds. Interestingly, the biggest whisky drinkers in the world are possibly not the countries you might expect; France, Uruguay and America come top, according to drinks website 31Dover. One of the most expensive whisky buys of recent times was a six litre decanter of Macallan whisky which was sold at auction for the unbelievable price of $628,000!
3. Spelling: there are a number of different spellings of the word with Scottish and Canadian people calling it ‘whisky’ whilst the Irish and Americans know it as ‘whiskey.’ Charles Dickens used both of these spellings in different novels so maybe he wasn’t sure which one was correct either. Contrary to popular belief whisky is produced in a wide range of countries as well as Scotland and America, such as Japan, India and Australia, and the latter has won global whisky awards for the quality.
4. Creating whisky: it is necessary to ensure that whisky is allowed to age for at least 3 years in oak barrels before it earns the name, and there are 5 classifications of whisky – Scotch Whisky; Irish Whisky, Canadian Whisky, American Whisky and Bourbon. Whisky can only mature if it left in a cask for the appropriate amount of time and the ‘age’ of a good whisky is the time taken between distillation and bottling. This is a reflection of how much interaction has taken place between cask and whisky that has affected it’s taste and chemistry as substances are absorbed from the wood into the whisky.
5. Special days: If you want to celebrate whisky in its many and various forms make a note of the following special whisky days: Scotch Whisky Day is celebrated on the 27th July, but there is also a World Whisky Day which happens on May 20th each year, as well as National Whisky Sour Day which falls on August 29th.
And there you have it! No go forth to the pub, order a wee dram of uisge beatha, and impress your friends with your new-found whisky knowledge. You can thank us later.