The idea of reading 10 full chapters about single malt whisky might seem a tad intimidating at first.
In fact, some would even call it pointless - and they would certainly have a point. However, if you
have decided to learn more, but don’t know where to start: you have found the one page on this
site designed especially for you! (Well, technically speaking it’s made for others like you as well.)
The ten chapters listed at the top of every page and
at the right are the ‘backbone’ of this guide.
If you simply read the chapters one by
one and step-by-step you can absorb
all the knowledge in bite-sized chunks.
And if you are not a beginner any more
and just want to brush up on details,
you can jump directly to a chapter.
But wait - there’s more...
For example, on five or six different, cheaper bottles of whisky.
Good malt whisky is still available for reasonable prices if you
know what to look for. And that’s something you should know by
the time you’ve worked your way through the 10 chapters of
whisky wit and wisdown in the Beginner’s Guide to malt whisky.
As long as you still are in the early stages of ‘malt madness’,
you might find this Beginner's Guide to Malt Whiskey useful.
Or exactly the opposite if you are already spending too much
time and/or money on whisky. The sixteen years ‘Odin’ bottling
from the Highland Park distillery is pretty - and pretty expensive.
I can think of many better ways to spend roughly €250.-
The first 3 chapters deal with the FUNDAMENTALS of Scotch
malt whisky; the basics of whisky production, the vocabulary
that is used in the whiskey world and the role of geography in
whisky manufacturing - and the way it affects your access to it.
These 10 chapters are divided into three groups.
I’ll describe each group briefly so you can jump ahead if you like. Scroll down a bit for more details on each of the ten chapters.
The next three chapters focus on the PRODUCTION PROCESS
of malt whisky; the distillation of the spirit from malted barley,
the maturation that turns the fresh spirit into whisky and finally
the bottling that puts the liquid into a user friendly package...
In the last four chapters we say goodbye to the boring theory so we can deal with some PRACTICAL POINTS that
should help you lift your whisky drinking to a whole new level. You’ll get tips on shopping for the right bottles, the
proper way to enjoy malt whisky, the actual practice of ‘dramming’ and finally a conclusion that wraps things up.
The first chapter of this guide deals with the basics of malt whisky. Should you spell it as ‘whisky’ - or as ‘whiskey’?
Is there a difference between whisky and whiskey - and is it actually possible to smell or taste that difference?
What are the origins of whiskey and distillation? Why did the Scots or Irish call their distillate whisky (or whiskey)?
Where is whiskey produced? Scotland? Ireland? The United States? Canada? Japan? India? Or all of the above?
What's so special about malt whisky from Scotland? And what exactly is it that makes whisky, erm... 'whisky'?
What is the relation between Scotch whisky and a Phylloxera (wine louse) infection in 19th century France?
The Beginner's Guide chapter about whisky basics should provide answers to all these questions. >>>>>
Do you know your hogshead from your butt? Or a 'pure malt' from a 'vatted malt' - a.k.a. 'blended malt'?
What are the differences between malt whisky and grain whisky? Are there other whisky 'types' or ‘categories’?
What is the difference between blended whisky and blended malt whisky - and why is that difference important?
Why is blending different from ‘vatting’? Where do grain whiskies fit in the picture - and are they any good?
Why do they still speak Scotch in the whisky world? Does a whisky’s colour tell you something about its ageing?
What do abbreviations like OB, ABV & WIP mean? And what about words like aldehydes, phenols and esters?
What is the pronunciation of distillery names like Auchroisk, Bunnahabhain, Glen Garioch and Teaninich?
You can use this second chapter on whisky language to brush up on your Scotch. >>>>>
The miracle of whisk(e)y distillation may (or may not) have been discovered in Scotland (or maybe Ireland).
Nowadays whisky is produced all over the world, but most people agree that Scotsmen perfected the process.
Most malt whisky distilleries can still be found in Scotland, but you can find distilleries as far away as America,
Australia, Canada, India and Japan. The concept of whisky regions like Highlands, Lowlands and Campbeltown
(the 'terroirs' within Scotland) is not as important anymore as some sentimental writers would like us to believe.
Nevertheless, this division offers a useful 'handle' to discover the wide variety in style and character that Scotch
malt whiskies have to offer. The third chapter about whisky geography looks at these issues - and more... >>>>>
Do you consider yourself a whisky expert? Congratulations - you can move along...
The Advanced Beginners Guide is aimed at people that realise that there is much more
to learn about whisky than one could possibly absorb in a single lifetime.
That was it, as far as the 10 ‘basic’ chapters of the guide were concerned.
Obviously, the available space was grossly insufficient to answer all whisky questions - or even cover all aspects
of production, marketing and consumption. That’s why I added an alphabetical ‘lexicon’ to Malt Madness as well;
The Whisky Label Inspector might help (relative) novices in the whisky world better
understand how to read a Scotch malt whisky label - including the small print.
A whisky label can offer a lot of useful information - but it can be misleading too...
Looking at all the knowledge that is out there, I feel that the phrase ‘whisky expert’ is
thrown around a little too lightly these days. I’ve been collecting information for the ABG
for almost two decades now, but every time I felt that I should start writing I discovered
new stuff that should be included as well.
When I write this, the Scotch Whisky Lexicon covers 650 whisky words, phrases and expressions - and by
now it has grown into a separate site section in its own right. I hope to expand that to at least 750 in the future.
Meanwhile, I’ve also added a few extra pages to this beginners guide - or am still busy doing so;
The ‘Debunker Bunker’ provides more room for the rants and raves that are often
the result of discussions about the many myths & misconceptions in the whisky world.
However, at the moment that Debunker Bunker is still ‘under construction’. I hope to get back to
it in the foreseeable future and would like to point to the Lexicon for stuff that is already published. .
The production process begins with malted barley and ends (eventually) with fresh ‘new make spirit'.
Chapter 4 deals with all the steps involved in the distillation process; the growing of the barley (many varieties
like Optic, Chariot and Golden Promise are used), malting, germination, mashing, fermentation, various still types
(wash stills, spirits stills and so-called Lomond stills) and, last but not least, the actual distillation of the malt whisky.
Together with geography and maturation, distillationis one of the three main 'ingredients' of Scotch malt whisky.
I’ll admit that this may seem like a 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. >>>>>
After at least three years of maturation in oak casks the fresh spirit 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 the entire fifth chapter to this topic. There are major differences
between malt whiskies that were aged in a ex-bourbon barrel, and those that were matured in ex-sherry casks.
The equation “Spirit + time = whisky” seems simpler than it actually is; nobody can predict the precise effect
that a particular shape, size and type of cask will have on the freshly distilled spirit that it will be filled with. >>>>>
Drinking whisky straight from the cask can get messy, so the invention of whiskey bottles can be considered a
major breakthrough in Western civilisation - comparable with the invention of the alphabet, the wheel and clothing.
The sixth chapter deals with the bottling of whisky once it has been matured. It also covers topics like the difference
between official and independent bottlings, single cask bottlings, cask strength bottlings, batch variation, chill
filtration, artificial colouring with caramel, etc. The sixth chapter explains why and how they use bottles... >>>>>
So, now it’s time to spend some actual money on (malt) whisky. There are many different whiskies available via
different channels for whiskey shopping like local liquor stores, webshops, travel retail and even whisky auctions.
A bottle of decent whisky can be obtained for as little as 25 Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency), while
others will cost you a small fortune. There are still affordable single malt whiskies available, but it's not always easy
to seek them out - especially for the relative 'beginners' in the confusing world of whisky. Chapter seven contains
a few suggestions to help you make sensible choices when it comes to buying your next bottle(s). >>>>>
Everybody enjoys a glass of whiskey (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. This chapter deals with tasting whiskey - 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 but you should never add ice cubes) and
most importantly: how we can make the most of our senses whilst enjoying a few glasses of malt whisky. >>>>>
Practice makes perfect. The more whiskeys you sample, the more you'll learn to recognise and appreciate the
huge variation in character and style between malt whiskies from various distilleries - and between whiskeys
from other ingredients, equipments and countries. You’ll have some serious ‘dramming’ ahead of you if you want to
develop a useful 'frame of reference'. One of the best (and definitely the funniest) ways to explore the whisky world
is a social whiskey tasting session with a few friends. But wouldn't it be a shame if everybody showed up with the
same bottle, or if you made a 'faux pas' by enthusiastically throwing some ice cubes in their whiskey tumblers?
Chapter 9 contains useful tips & pointers to help you avoid shame & humiliation amongst your peers. >>>>>
After working your way through these ten chapters you should at least have learned enough to be able to avoid
embarrassing yourself in public and/or making some costly mistakes when you are shopping for your whiskey.
Another useful tool for novices could be the WHISKY LABEL INSPECTOR which provides some background
information about the ‘essential credentials’ that can be found on a whisky label, like age, vintage, proof, etc.
If you want to learn even more about whisky, check out the sitemap for other whisky information on this website. .
Even after reading just one chapter of the Beginner’s Guide you should know more about malt whisky than you
did before - provided you were a proper beginner to begin with... And even though parts of MM have not been
fully reconstructed yet, you can find much more information about various aspects of the malt whisky world here:
An overview of the Scotch whisky industry, divided by the ownership of distilleries.
A list of the major Scotch whisky bottlers - both independent and industry-owned.
There are far more malt whisky brands than there are malt whisky distilleries.
An overview of all active and recently closed whisky distilleries in Scotland.
The whisky regions of Scotland have lost much of their significance these days.
As the ugly red-haired step-sibling of malt whisky, grain whisky is rarely mentioned.
The Whisky Lexicon offers an A-Z overview of 750 whisky words and phrases.
On the page with “A words” you can find more about ABV, after-shots and aldehydes.
The page with “B words” offers insights into barley, barrels, bastard malts and BFYB.
The “C words” page looks at words and phrases like caramel, copita and cultivar.
Arguably the most important factor during maturation is the cask holding the whisky.