Scotch malt whisky guide

Malt Whisky Yearbook
Malt Madness - all about Scotch whisky
Whisky information for beginners

Like the name suggests, this is a 'BEGINNER'S GUIDE' - I've tried to keep things as concise & understandable as possible.
Much more details can be found in the ADVANCED BEGINNER'S GUIDE - but that's not quite finished at the moment.
 

Chapter 1: Basics - What is single malt Scotch whisky?
 
The first chapter of this guide deals with the 'fundamental' basics. What's the history of whisky?
When and how did the manufacturing of whisky become an industry? What are the ingredients of whisky?
Where is whisky produced? Scotland? Ireland? The United States? Canada? Japan? Or all of the above?
Is there a difference between whisky and whiskey - and is it actually possible to taste that difference?
What is the relation between Scotch whisky and a Phylloxera (wine louse) infection in 19th century France?
What's so special about Scotch malt whisky? And what exactly is it that makes whisky, erm... 'whisky'?
I've tried to provide answers to all these questions - and more - in chapter 1 of the Beginner's Guide.  >>>>>
 
Chapter 2: Vocabulary - Terminology & pronunciation
 
Do you know your hogshead from your butt? Or a 'pure malt' from a 'vatted malt' - a.k.a. 'blended malt'?
Where do grain whiskies fit in the picture - and are they any good? Are there any other 'types' of whisky?
What is the difference between a vatting and a single cask whisky? And what is a 'single single' whisky ?
What do abbreviations like OB, ABV & WIP mean? And what about Aldehydes, Phenols and Esters?
What is the role of the Scotch Whisky Association? What is Gaelic and why does it hurt your ears so much?
What is the pronunciation of distillery names like Auchroisk, Bunnahabhain, Glen Garioch and Teaninich?
If you don't know what I'm on about, you can use this second chapter to brush up on your Scotch.
Soon will be able to impress other barflies with all the fancy new words you've learned.  >>>>>
 
Chapter 3: Geography - The malt whisky regions of Scotland
 
The miracle of whisk(e)y distillation may (or may not) have been discovered in Scotland (or maybe Ireland).
These days whisky is produced all over the world, but almost everybody seems to agree that the Scots managed to perfect the process. Although you can find distilleries as far away as America, Australia and India, the whiskies that are produced there are usually unable to reach quite the same level of excellence as the 'aqua vitae' that is produced by the Scots. I should point out that Japan is the exception to this 'rule' - since they entered the Malt Maniacs Awards whisky competition for the first time a few years ago they have earned consistently high scores. Although the concept of 'terroir ' (within Scotland) may not be quite as important as sentimental copywriters would like us to believe, it offers a very useful 'handle' for beginners to start discovering the wide variety in style and character that Scotch single malt whiskies have to offer. And of course, it is useful for visitors of Scotland too.
Chapter 3 explains more about the 'terroir' of famous whisky regions like Speyside or Campbeltown.  >>>>>
 
Chapter 4: Distillation - And so it begins...
 
The production process begins with malted barley and ends (eventually) with 'fresh spirit'.
Chapter 4 deals with all the steps involved in the distillation process; the growing of the barley (varieties like Optic, Chariot and Golden Promise are used), malting, germination, mashing, fermentation, various still types, feints & foreshots and, last but not least, the actual distillation of the malt whisky. Together with geography and maturation, distillation is one of the three main 'ingredients' of single malt Scotch whisky. I have to admit that this may seem like a slightly (or not so slightly ;-) boring 'theoretical' topic for those eager to take their first sips, but when you understand the essence of distillation you'll enjoy those whiskies so much more...  >>>>>
 
Chapter 5: Maturation - All the fresh spirit needs to evolve into real whisky is time
 
After at least three years of maturation in oak casks the fresh sprit has transformed into whisky.
The pedigree and history of the wood and the casks themselves is probably the single most important factor in shaping the end product. That's why I've dedicated an entire chapter to this topic. After reading this fifth chapter, you should understand a little bit more about the reason for the major differences between whiskies that were aged in a ex-sherry cask, and those that were matured in ex-bourbon casks. Spirit & time = whisky - but that equation seems a lot simpler than it really is; even today scholars can't predict the exact effect that a particular shape, size and type of cask will have on the freshly distilled spirit that it will be filled with.  >>>>>
 
Chapter 6: Bottling - Sooner or later the whisky is ready for human consumption
 
Drinking straight from the cask can get quite messy, so the invention of the bottle can be considered a major breakthrough in Western civilisation - comparable with the invention of the alphabet, the wheel and clothing.
This sixth chapter of the Beginner's Guide to single malt whisky deals with the bottling of whisky once it has been matured and related topics like the difference between official and independent bottlings, single cask bottlings, cask strength bottlings, batch variation of OB's (the phenomenon that today's Ardbeg 10yo can taste very different from last year's), chill filtration, bastard bottlings, the artificial colouring of whisky with caramel, etc.
The sixth chapter of this guide also includes a list with some of the main independent bottlers of whisky.
So - check it out to find out why and how they use bottles>>>>>
 
Chapter 7: Shopping - How to spend your money sensibly on single malt whisky
 
After six chapters filled with 'theory', you should now be able to spend some actual money on malts.
There are many different single malt whiskies available at liquor stores around the world. Some bottles can be obtained for as little as 25 Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency) while others (mostly older and overproof whiskies) will cost you a small fortune. There are still affordable single malts available, but it's not always easy to seek them out - especially for the relative 'beginners' in the confusing world of whisky. This is especially true because liquor stores are not the only venues where you can acquire bottles of whisky. Especially older bottlings are sold at auctions and on eBay and in some countries they're even sold in supermarkets. Chapter seven contains a few suggestions to help you make sensible choices when it comes to buying your next bottle(s).  >>>>>
 
Chapter 8: Enjoyment - About nosing and tasting single malt whisky
 
Everybody enjoys a glass of whisky (preferably single malt) in his or her own way - just like they should.
After all, drinking whisky should be FUN!  But if you want to get the most from a glass of single malt, it helps to give some thought to some of the finer details. Chapter eight of this Beginner's Guide deals with 'dramming' topics like the type of glassware that is suitable for serious analysis (extremely important but often neglected!), the temperature at which malt whisky is best served, the 'rules' about diluting a whisky (why you can add water to whisky but you should never add ice cubes) and most importantly: how we can make the most of our senses when we are enjoying a few glasses of single malt Scotch whisky. The Scots and their spirits have spent many years on the stuff, so it's only civilised to learn a little about how to properly enjoy a single malt whisky>>>>>
 
Chapter 9: Practice - Organise your own little tasting party
 
Practice makes perfect. The more malt whiskies you try, the more you'll learn to recognise and appreciate the variation in character and style between single malts from various distilleries - and the differences with other types of whisk(e)y and whiskies from other countries. You have some serious dramming ahead of you if you want to build a useful 'frame of reference'. One of the best (and definitely the funniest) ways to explore the whisky world is a social tasting session with a few friends. But wouldn't it be a shame if they all showed up with the same bottle, or you made a 'faux pas' by enthusiastically throwing some ice cubes in their tumblers before filling them up?
Chapter 9 contains useful tips & pointers to help you avoid shame & humiliation amongst your peers.  >>>>>
 
Chapter 10: Conclusion - Some final observations and reflections
 
Before I made the 'final' update of this Beginner's Guide in 2009 (the Advanced Beginner's Guide in PDF will be updated continuously), I tried to tie up some loose ends in this last chapter of the guide. I'd like to think that the current guide contains a lot of useful information for absolute beginners, but the more you learn about whisky, the more new questions pop up. That meant that I had to update and expand all 10 HTML pages of this guide regularly in the past, which made the list of 'loose ends' grow longer and longer. That worked for a while, but it wasn't the most efective way of distributing information. So, I had been playing with thoughts about writing an expansion to this guide. The eBook Review in the last chapter explains where I found inspiration for a new guide.  >>>>> 

Scotch
Available whisky information:
Scottish whiskies info

Are you a curious 'novice' in the world of whisky?
Are you wondering what the commotion is about?
Are you ready to spend the next few hours soaking
up all you need to know to fully enjoy a whisky?
Then you found the right section of Malt Madness.
 
Here you can find everything you ever wanted to
know about single malt whisky - and probably a
few things that you didn't want to know as well...

The ten chapters of this Beginner's Guide are divided into three groups. The first group of three chapters deals with
the FUNDAMENTALS of whisky, the VOCABULARY that is used in the whisky world and the role of GEOGRAPHY.
The next three chapters focus on the production process of a single malt whisky; the DISTILLATION of the spirit from
malted barley, the MATURATION that turns the fresh spirit into whisky and finally the BOTTLING that packages the
whisky in a user friendly fashion. The last four chapters deal with the practical implications of dramming; SHOPPING,
the ENJOYMENT of malts, the actual PRACTICE of dramming and finally a CONCLUSION that wraps things up.

A Beginner's Guide to Scottish Whiskies
Beginner's whisky guide
Macallan 15 years old
Glenfiddich 1974

That guide isn't finished yet, though - so you'll have to rely on the web for your whisky data for now.
Much more information about malts can be found in the distillery profiles in the Distillery Data section
and in the pages of my Liquid Log (400 log entries about all my alcoholic adventures since early 1997).
 
That's almost everything for now - but there's just one more thing... The internet and e-book readers are
wonderful inventions, but many people still prefer an old-fashioned paper book when they feel like reading or
learning about whisky. That's why I've included a selection of whisky books at the end every chapter of the guide.

 

After reading the ten chapters of this guide you shouldn't feel like a complete novice in the
wild world of whisky anymore. However, don't think that this will be the end of your study;
if you grow mad about malts like I did, it will be just the beginning! You will find yourself
drawn to liquorists whenever you pass one by. If you have indeed been bitten by the
barley bug, this website (together with the Malt Maniacs and WhiskyFun sister sites)
should keep you suitably informed & entertained for quite some time. There's only
one little problem with the guide; the HTML pages of this website look like crap if
you try to print them out - which a lot of visitors still do. Not to worry, though;
the Advanced Beginner's Guide will be a downloadable PDF (easy for printing). 

The whisky books that are mentioned at the end of each chapter offer additional information beyond what is
available in that particular chapter, while The Reading List in the mAlmanac provides a top 10 with an overview
of my personal favourite whisky books. However, at the end of this overview of the Beginner's Guide, I'd like
to shine the spotlight on a specific book that is of particular interest to the readership of this beginner's guide...
 
A fresh edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook (edited by Ingvar Ronde) is published each year around October.
It contains an overload of recent information about the active distilleries in Scotland, but details on 'silent stills'
in Scotland and whisky distilleries in the rest of the world as well. Also: articles, interviews, statistics and more.
 
Best of all: it's available for the friendly price of 13.95 at the Malt Whisky Yearbook website!
In my book, that makes it a very worthy investment for any beginner in the confusing world of malt whisky...

Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Littlemill 12yo
twitter-malt-madness-02

Oh, and one more thing... Some of these modern 'new media' - especially Facebook - are far more 'social' than I am.
I had to overcome some of my antisocial tendencies, but these days I'm a active on Twitter - and to a lesser extent on
Google+ and Facebook. If you follow me on Twitter I'll do my best to keep you informed about the important events in
the malt whisky world and developments around the Malt Madness website. As far as the Beginner's Guide to single malt
whisky is concerned: you might want to bookmark this page (simply hit CTRL+D on your keyboard) for future reference.

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