Like the name suggests, this is a 'BEGINNER'S GUIDE' - I've tried to keep things as concise & understandable as
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?
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
six chapters filled with 'theory', you should now be able to spend some actual money
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
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. >>>>>