Here, you should be able to find everything you need
to know to ‘properly’ enjoy a single malt Scotch whisky.
In fact, I imagine that many of the whisk(e)y tasting tips
in this guide might help with other types of whisky as well.
But we won’t get to that until the second part of this guide.
Are you a 'novice' in the world of (single) malt (Scotch) whisky - or whiskey? (*)
Have you recently tried your first ‘drams’ of malt whisky and you’re curious?
Or maybe you wonder if and why you should try single malt whisky at all?
Well, with some luck you will feel a lot smarter once you’ve worked your
way through the ten chapters of this Beginner’s Guide to malt whisky.
Before we get to the practical points like the best type
of glassware or how much water you should use, it’s worth
taking a look at some whisky history & technology along the way.
And some ‘lingo’ to help you impress others while you’re dramming.
So, if you would classify yourself as a ‘nitwit’ when it comes to malt
whisky, I suggest you simply browse onwards to chapter one about
the whisky basics and start reading. If you already know a thing or
two, you can also jump directly to a particular topic in the the list
of chapters at the right (and the top of each page).
Do you consider yourself a whisky expert? Congratulations; then you can move along.
The Advanced Guide is for those who realise that there’s more to learn about whisky...
Always - the phrase ‘whisky expert’ might be thrown around a little lightly these days...
I wrote the very first version of the Beginner’s Guide in the 1990s, before I learned
a lot more about whisky than I did at the time. Thanks to the questions and feedback
of many readers and ‘foreign correspondents’ (not to mention whisky books and the
malt maniacs collective), I could improve the guide, but the available space is limited.
So, I’ve now added a Whisky Label Inspector to the guide where we’ll have
room to expand a bit on some of the different elements that one might find on
the average malt whisky label, like the ABV, a vintage, an age statement, etc.
Be that as it may, it
never hurts to learn a
little more about whiskey.
Meanwhile, before we even get to the contents
of the ten chapters, I’d like to start with the most
important piece of advice: don’t drink & drive!
It’s unethical to risk others for your pleasure...
The Advanced Beginners Guide will never be
completely finished, but it provides more room
to look at topics from a broader perspective.
For now, the Debunker Bunker is still under
Chapter one deals with the spelling of whisky (or whiskey) and the difference between whisky and whiskey.
It also looks at the origins of whisk(e)y in Scotland and/or Ireland - and what makes Scotch whisky so special.
And you’ll understand how a Phylloxera (wine louse) infection in France helped Scotch whisky to spread globally.
The chapter about whisky basics should provide answers to all these ‘basic’ whisky questions. >>>>>
Do you know your hogshead from your butt? Or a 'pure malt' from a 'vatted malt' - or 'blended malt' even?
What is the difference between malt whisky and grain whisky - and what other whisky 'types' are available?
Why are blended whisky and blended malt whisky different - and why is blending not the same as ‘vatting’?
What do abbreviations like OB, ABV & WIP mean? And what about the pronunciation of names like Auchroisk?
The second chapter on whisky vocabulary should help you prevent unnecessary embarrassments. >>>>>
Whisk(e)y distillation was discovered in Scotland (or Ireland), but nowadays whisky is produced all over the world.
Most malt whisky distilleries are still Scotch, but you can find (malt) whisky distilleries in dozens of countries now.
The influence of whisky regions or 'terroirs' within Scotland is not nearly as important as it once was, but it gives
us a useful ‘handle’ on the whisky world. The chapter on whisky geography looks at these issues and more. >>>>>
Together with geography and maturation, distillation is one of the three main 'ingredients' of Scotch malt whisky.
Whisky production begins with malted barley and ends with fresh ‘new make spirit'. Chapter 4 deals with all stages
of the distillation process. That includes the growing of barley grains, malting, germination, mashing, fermentation,
various pot still types and, last but not least, the actual distillation of the malt whisky in copper pot stills. >>>>>
After at least 3 years of maturation in oak casks the freshly distilled spirit has transformed into whisky.
The pedigree and history of the wood and casks is perhaps the most significant factor in shaping the final product.
The differences between whiskies aged in ex-bourbon barrels and those that were matured in ex-sherry casks
are very significant. A particular shape, size and type of cask all contribute to the alchemy to maturation. >>>>>
Thanks to the invention of the bottle we don’t have to drink our whisky straight from the cask anymore.
The sixth chapter deals with the bottling of the (Scotch malt) whisky once it has been matured for at least 3 years.
It also covers related topics like the difference between official bottlings, independent bottlings and ‘bastards’
single casks, cask strength bottlings, batch variation, chill filtration, artificial whisky colouring with caramel, etc.
Chapter six explains why whisky bottles were such a great invention - and why labels improved upon it... >>>>>
So, now it’s time to spend some actual money on (malt) whisky. There are many different whiskies available via
different whisky shopping channels but a bottle of decent whisky can still be obtained for as little as 25 Euro's
if you know what to look for. But it's not always easy to seek out the bargains - especially for relative 'beginners' in
the confusing whisky world. Chapter 7 help you make sensible choices when it comes to buying your bottles. >>>>>
Everybody enjoys a whisky in his or her own way, and that’s just fine with me. However, if you want to get the most
from a single malt, it helps to consider topics like the type of glassware that is suitable for serious whisky analysis,
the temperature at which malt whisky is best served, if diluting a whisky (with water, not ice cubes!) and how we
can make the most of our senses whilst seriously tasting (and enjoying) a glass of malt whisky. >>>>>
Practice makes perfect. The huge variation in character and style between whiskies from various distilleries, stills,
ingredients and countries means that you’ll have some serious ‘dramming’ ahead of you. As you go along, you will
develop a 'frame of reference' and soon you will be able to organise a ‘social’ whisky tasting with a few friends.
But wouldn't it be a shame if they all showed up with the same bottle? Yes it would - but chapter 9 can help. >>>>>