It was at a recent and very pleasant visit to the newly opened Albion Crosby that my love affair with whiskey was reignited, courtesy of a very excellent Blood and Sand cocktail. This is one of the older whiskey based cocktails with a tale all of its own: being created in 1922 for Rudolph Valentino’s bullfighter movie of the same name. Several of these very potent cocktails later, as Red guided me home, I realised whiskey was the mistress I loved to hate. So I felt moved to pen some thoughts on this most adult of spirits.
Defintion: Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.
Simple definition, simple drink, or at least you might think so. But the reality is far from simple. In truth, whiskey is the Louis Suarez of drinks: some people love it, some hate it and it packs a vicious bite! Like many of you, I have had varied experiences of whiskey ranging from that napalm-like first gulp of a stray glass in a family party, to the meaningful and emotional late night sip with a friend whilst putting the world to rights, and everything in between.
George Bernard Shaw described whiskey as “liquid sunshine” and, by all accounts, he was experienced enough with the topic to pass such a judgement. Indeed the word whiskey comes from the Gaelic for water of life. There is no surprise that in Compton McKenzie’s famous novel, Whisky Galore, it is not the rationing of food that is the problem for those on the Hebridean islands of Great and Little Todday but the lack of whiskey.
Let’s face it, whiskey can give wine a run for its money and then some when it comes down to varieties, blends, styles and of course, experts.
Types of Whiskey
For the beginner, however, here is a brief summary of they main types of whiskey. Let us start with the building blocks:
Malt whiskey – primarily made from malted barley
Grain whiskey – primarily made from any type of grain
Now comes the various ways of combining these ingredients:
Single malt – this is whiskey made from only one type of malted grain but may contain whiskey of different ages or from different casks. For example Glenfiddich or Penderyn
Blended malt – a mixture of single malt whiskeys from different distilleries. For example Famous Grouse or J & B
Blended whiskey – this is a mix of various whiskeys from different distilleries. For example Johnnie Walker or Teachers
Whiskey Around the World
But this is just the start as we look around the world, each different culture, seems to have taken the basic concept of whiskey and intertwined it with their own, unique, characteristics. In the American south the world famous home of bourbons such as Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. Meanwhile Canada also enjoys a strong reputation for its own whiskey production. Probably less well known is the fact that Finland, Sweden, Spain, Japan and even India have thriving whiskey production.
For most of us, however, the choice is about whether to have Scotch or Irish? In fact the word Scotch has become synonymous with any whiskey but my preference has always been for the milder and richer Irish, such as Jameson’s but maybe that is down to my heritage which, like Westlife, shamrock, men in vests, an obsession with horses, the Commitments, the IRA and Louis Walsh, is of the emerald persuasion.
Some bearded Son of Glyndwyr will have been producing something resembling whiskey in a hut on a hill since before the first scouser and family pitched up in Prestatyn
However, I have recently been made aware that the Welsh have branched out into whiskey production as well with the excellent Penderhyn distillery, which opened in 2000 producing the award winning Madeira single malt. Yes I know some bearded Son of Glyndwyr will have been producing something resembling whiskey in a hut on a hill since before the first scouser and family pitched up in Prestatyn, but this is the first big time production, and it is good!
The truth about whiskey, wherever it is from, is that it is a grown up drink. Yes we have all seen the Chav glugging a JD drowned in coke, or youthful exuberance enjoying a Southern Comfort, lime and lemonade but, for every one of them, there is a truly mature whiskey drinker, hardened through life’s experiences and scarred by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, who sips and savours. Like the leather clad Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings movies, Jax Teller from the Son’s of Anarchy, Francis Underwood from House of Cards (OK so you can tell I have Netflix!) or even a slightly giddy Honest Ade nursing his 4th Blood and Sand. To paraphrase the author of Whisky Galore, Compton McKenzie, when asked if Love made the world go round, he blinked and replied “Maybe so, but whisky makes it go round twice as fast!”