Whisky - FAQ

General

Drinking Whisky

Whisky & Culture

Miscellaneous

 

 

General

  • Do you advocate drinking alcohol?
    Yes. It would be silly to assume a whisky and cigar club would do otherwise. On the other hand we should point out that we would never advocate that you should drink our whisky. Drink your own stuff and suffer your own consequences.
     
  • Is drinking alcohol dangerous to my health?
    Yes. As almost any other thing worthwhile doing. Don't do it. And if you feel you are getting mixed signals here it's because either you are too young, too stupid, or both.

Drinking Whisky

  • What is the correct temperature for drinking whisky?
    Well, there are two ways of answering that. First of all, there is no outside temperature that is right for whisky. No matter if summer or winter, you should always drink whisky.
    Then, of course, there is the matter of what temperature the whisky should be served at. Again, the answer is simple: Room temperature (18-22°C). A good whisky (see "
    Scotch Single Malt" below) is never served chilled or cold. Low temperatures deaden your taste buds. If you drink your whisky cold, you may as well be drinking turpentine.
     
  • Why do some people put ice in their whisky?
    Because they are either drinking bad whisky, or they are idiots. Probably both, because no one in their right mind would ever think of drinking bad whisky. If you order a whisky "on the rocks" this had better indicate to the waiter where you want to sit.
    You may, however, drink american burbon whisky with ice. The question remains, however, if this invalidates anything of the above.
     
  • Why do some people put water in their whisky?
    Because some whiskies (see "
    Cask Strength", below) come in such a strength that it's taste is still "closed". Adding water can "open up" the taste. This only applies to good whiskies. Bad whiskies are always closed, and you should drink the water instead.
     
  • How much water should I put in my whisky?
    Many experienced whisky lovers experiment with the taste of a good whisky by successively adding drop after drop of water until the taste is just right. Note that adding water to whisky is always done by drops. If you see someone adding a large quantity of water to their whisky, you should hope that he/she is drinking something else. You can also be sure that this person is not a member of the Club of Zurich.
     
  • What kind of glass should I be using?
    Drinking whisky is not just a matter of gulping down an alcohol-infused liquid. Part of drinking whisky is seeing the amber liqud in the glass, and an even larger part is sampling it's exquisite vapours. For the latter there are special glasses available that are shaped to allow the whisky to develop it's optimal taste. A glass that works very well is depicted on the right.
    Never use a tumbler. Unless, of course, you want to drink your whisky with ice.
     
  • What is a "Blend" or "Blended Whisky"?
    Creating the taste for a whisky is a complex task. Like many Bordeaux wines, whiskies are created by mixing the contents of different whisky (aged) barrels, and regularly also by using whiskies from different distilleries. This is done to ensure that a whisky always has the same taste. A "Blend" is a whisky that is an assemblage of whiskies from different distilleries.
    A blend's hallmark is that a particular age (e.g. "20 years old") always tastes the same, no matter when it was produced.
     
  • What is a "Malt" whisky?
    Whiskies can be produced from a great variety of grains. A "Malt" whisky is a whisky that was produced with malt made from barley only.
     
  • What is a "Single Malt"?
    A single malt (as opposed to a blended malt) is a malt whisky made from whisky from only one distillery.
    It does not, however, mean that this whisky comes from a single cask, or that all the whisky in the bottle is of the same age.
    A single malt will taste different for each year it was produced.
     
  • What is a "Single Cask"?
    Usually a single malt is made from different casks of whisky in order to average their slightly differing tastes. Not so a "single cask". This whisky comes only from a single cask (which is usually identified on the lable).
    A whisky from one cask may very well taste different from a whisky from another cask of that same year.
     
  • What does "Cask Strength" mean?
    Before being bottled, a whisky is usually watered down to around 40-46%vol of alcohol. This is done to open up it's taste and make it more accessible to the general public, since the distillers know at which strength most people prefer this whisky.
    A cask strength whisky is filled straight from the cask, without adding any water. Such a whisky can have anywhere from 42 to well over 60%vol of alcohol.
     
  • How old is a Whisky that says "10 years old"?
    Age in a whisky means the time it spent in a cask (not bottle). Since a distillery mixes whiskies from different casks and ages, not all whisky in a single bottle is necessarily of the same age. A bottle that says "X years old" means that the youngest whisky used for this bottle is X years old. Thus, if a bottle claims that the whisky is 10 years ols, it may also contain whisky that has aged 12 years or even longer. Any bottle that does not carry an age may contain very young whisky (e.g. 5 or 7 years old - legally, a whisky must age for at least three years). These young whiskies are a matter of taste, and we have tried, and liked, some undated whiskies, while hated others.
     
  • What does "Port Wood Finish" or "Doublewood" etc. mean?
    One of the most important contributors to a whisky's taste is the wood of the cask it ages in. Traditionally, oak is used to make a cask. However, distilleries found out that they could improve the "roundness" of a whiskey when they used casks made from other wood, or casks that where previously used for other products (Sherry, Brandy, Burbon, Red Wine). Examples for whiskies that aged in such a cask are "Bowmore Dusk" (Red Wine), "The Balvenie PortWood", or "Lagavulin Double Matured". Sometimes a whisky spends all its time in such a cask, sometimes it first ages in an oak barrel, and is then transferred to another one (Double-Wood, xxxWood finish, Double Matured etc).
     
  • Does Whisky improve with age?
    Yes and no.
    No: Unlike wine, whisky does not improve after it has been bottled. Therefore, a bottled 10-year-old whisky does not become a 15-year-old after it spent 5 years in your cellar. On the other hand, any un-opened whisky does also not deteriorate after a certain time (opened bottles may lose alcohol if not tended properly, and each time you open it, the newly added oxygen may also affect it's taste).
    Yes: While aging in it's cask, whisky usually improves in taste. A 20-year-old ususally tastes more well defined, and much more rounded, than an 8-year-old. However, with age the oak (or whatever wood was used) becomes more prominent. This may not be to everyone's liking.
     
  • Is a dark whisky a good whisky?
    There is a common misconception that a darkly colored whisky is also a good whisky. Traditionally, a whisky that aged longer also had a darker complexion, and thus people associated a dark tint with age and superior quality. This is untrue today for a number of reasons:
    • "Clever" businessmen have found out that people believe this and now add darkener to their whisky to cash in on this misconception. Nowadays you can have a dark whisky that is only a few years old and tastes terrible.
    • Some of the best whiskies are pale, even though they are old. Ardbeg, for example is a naturally pale whisky. It's 10 year old whisky looks like white wine, and when 30 years old it is still lighter in color than the average (15 years old) Macallan.

    Therefore, a darker whisky of the same brand may be better than a lighter, but only may. Bowmore's "Darkest" is a good example. Even though it is undoubtly a very good (and also young) whisky, it is much darker than Bowmore's own 25-years-old - but can't hold a candle in taste against it's older sibling.

Whisky & Culture

  • Who invented Whisky?
    Fermenting and distilling sugar (or products that contain sugar, such as grain, grapes, and herbs) has been a tradition in Europe for over 1000 years. Earliest reports of whisky being produced are from Ireland, around the early 1000s. About 500 years later is the first report of Scottish whisky production (or what then was regarded as whisky: a malt-based spirit)
    It is assumed the the name "Whisky" is derived from the Gaelic "uisge beatha", which means "Spirited Water" or "Water of Life"

    This may also be the origin of the proverb "While the Irish invented whisky, the scots made it drinkable".
     
  • What is whisky? How is it produced?
    Whisky is a spirit made by distilling fermented grain. Traditionally, whisky is produced the following way:
    • Barley is put into water for a few days. This starts the process germinating, turning starch into sugar.
    • The Barley is taken out of the water and spread on a surface (sometimes called "malting floor"). The grain continues to germinate. To facilitate the process, it it regularly turned.
    • After another few days, the germinating process it terminated by drying the barley. Traditionally used for this purpose is a peat fire, which (more precisely: it's smoke) also contributes to the taste. The dried germinated grain is called "Malt".
    • Malt is ground and then mixed with hot water, creating a sugar-rich liquid called "wort". The liquid is drawn off, with the solid remains discarded.
    • Wort is mixed with yeast and left to ferment for a few days, turning sugar into alcohol.
    • After fermenting, the wort is distilled (once, twice or sometimes even three times), creating the spirit.
    • The spirit is put into a cask and ages there for anywhere between 3 (legal minimum) and 40 or more years.
       
  • What is the difference between Scotch, Whisky, Whiskey and Burbon?
    • "Scotch" is simply a malt whisky made in Scotland - no other whisky may call itself "Scotch"
    • Whisky is the english version - usually made from barley
    • Whiskey is the american version - usually made from corn
    • Burbon is Whiskey (american corn whisky) which has matured in casks freshly made from oak (these casks - not the whiskey - are later used to produce good scotchs).

Miscellaneous

  • What is so special about Islay whiskies?
    There simply is no better whisky. We don't know why. Perhaps it's the climate (ugly). Perhaps the water (not very clean). Perhaps the peat used in the fires to dry the malt (strong and agressive). Maybe even the closeness of the sea. But the fact remains that all of us prefer a "stong, smoky, frank, and above all uncultured Ardbeg over those candy-assed Highland or children's-swill Lowlanders". There is a reason that the best whiskies of all come from here: Black Bowmore, 1974 Ardbeg, 1968 Port Ellen. There can only be one, and it's Islay.