Primer on whiskies

Primer on whiskies

It may come as a surprise but whisky, for so long seen as an "old man's" drink and less fashionable than say, wine or gin, is now becoming fashionable among women.

What's more, this increasing popularity with the fairer sex has contributed to record sales in recent years.

Despite the growing interest, many are still not fully versed in what whisky is made from and its different forms.

One problem is that whisky classification is complicated by different rules of production and bottle labelling by each whisky-producing country.

Typically, the longer the country's whisky industry has been organised and legalised, the more stringent these rules.

One striking example from traditional producers Scotland, Ireland, the US and Canada is that they categorically forbid mixing whiskies from other countries into their own blends.

This is reasonable as consumers assume the origin of the product by its label; hence it's worth noting that several whiskies from Japan have traditionally been bottled with a blend of malts from Scotland.

Making things worse for the consumer is that rules governing whisky production in India, Thailand and Taiwan are so ambiguous that some of these spirits cannot be imported into the EU as whiskies.

Scottish grade

It's best to start one's understanding with the Scottish classification, since these whiskies are probably the most familiar and have the added advantage of being governed by a very robust system.

In Scotland, whisky was made primarily from malt until the 1860s, after which other grains such as corn, wheat and rye were permitted as ingredients.

This trend of mixing other grains with malt whiskies continued to the 1950s where whiskies made solely from malt were reintroduced.

Technically, malts are simply the germinated state of whole grains. However in the context of whisky it is only the malt of the barley grain that defines malt whiskies as we know them today.

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