Basics of whisky, whiskey, and barrelwash

It has been since time immemorial a family tradition to enjoy a good whisky when meeting again after a long time apart, as such I learned a good appreciation of a fine scotch whisky and the pitfalls of its poorer cousins. I feel a bit of education is necessary to really appreciate where I am coming from in later posts that will be centred around a particular malt or blend. It is a vast topic area and one well covered in many books written by far more learned individuals on the topic so if you wish to find out more on one specific area then by all means head down to your local library and pull one of the many tomes of the shelf!

William Grants day in the sun…

Last night I traveled down to Taranaki on lodge business, I am one of the few men out there with the Ba-abilitiy to stand in front of a room of distinguished men and blow my horn. I am a herald, and I carry the beast below and embellish the ritual where it is needed. My reward for my efforts (other than recognition and praise) is a healthy measure of whisky from the bottle reserved for the officers of Grand Lodge. This bottle is usually provided by the incoming master of the lodge, and for the last few installations it has been a bottle of Grants.


Some of my earliest memories of drinking whisky were of when I was allowed a sip from my mother’s glass, this was often a rare occurrence, and many a time left me baffled as to how she could drink such a foul unsavoury beast. Later in life I gained my first experience of single malt whisky, and it dawned on me then that something was amiss… It turns out that I had been provided with a sip, or on the odd occasion a wee thimble of either Wilsons, or more often than not Grants in an attempt to keep me from drinking the good stuff!

My general tasting notes were simple, The stuff smelt of old yeast spread (Marmite, Vegemite…) and the taste was reminiscent of an odd medicinal drink often dished out by my grandmother with was essentially that same spread, but in a bug of hot water. More importantly, of all the unfortunate nights binge drinking¬†¬†on the stuff (it is one of the cheapest after all, and as a student you must live within your means), one is often left with what can best be described as a cup full of fresh manure on the breath.

But Last night I was pleasantly surprised. As I braced myself for the first measure of poison to pass my lips it was greeted with soft oaty notes and a heathery sweetness… the notes lingered slightly presenting a wiff of smoke… perhaps these were the first signs of madness… I took another, checked the bottle for marks of tampering, rechecked that this was not some kind of extra special bottling… the second bottle was the same, and it too was equally punching well above expectation.

Shamelessly nicked from an Indian retail site, I don’t actually own a bottle of the stuff.

I little bit of knowledge explains much I’ve found. Grants you see, is a product of the glenfiddich plant in spaeyside. It takes 12 years to mature their first single malt for retail sale, and up to 50 years for some of the more prestigious bottlings. Not all casks are destined to reach these lofty heights and some casks mature faster than others. As such regular testing of the contents of each cask is checked and rechecked every 6 or so months and when they start to mature they are hauled off to be blended into the their age bracket. Those that don’t make the 12th year (and there are many) are cut with grain whisky and other casks for near and far to gain some semblance of consistency, but It would seem that this year’s round of casks were a stellar bunch and with so much cream at the top, some of the still good casks were diverted into the Grants Blend.

In short, this year’s run is a bargain!

But I hasten to add this is most likely a one off event. Not long back I was put off the Glenfiddich when the 12 year tasted worse than cheap bourbon, a few years later the 15 year got some rotten reviews… its back on form again now, however, it is worth remembering that whisky is affected by the seasons, air quality, and any other factors. Distilleries have good years… and bad ones. So enjoy the Good Grants while you can, it won’t be round forever.

Categories: Basics of whisky, whiskey, and barrelwash, Blended, Tastings, Whisk(e)y | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Where did that bottle come from? Whisk(e)y Regions

Whisky, whiskey, and bourbon all come with somewhat specific connotations and it is a good thing to keep your eye on to get an idea of where the bottle comes from and what to expect. Whisky generally refers to a bottle of Scottish origin, whiskey from Ireland as well as some places in north America, whereas bourbons are an American produced commodity generally from Kentucky or Tennessee but also other localities in the corn belt.

There are so many Scotch whiskies that Scotland is divided into several regions, these being Islay, Island, speyside, lowlands and west, east, and northern highlands. Loosely there are particular characteristics associated with each; Islay and Islands for example are normally peated as well as containing salty, and Iodine notes, whereas the speysides are generally softer with oaty notes. This is only a loose distinction, but a useful one when whittling down your buying options.

Most Scotch whisky is double distilled with some softer malts triple distilled, the Irish, however, tend to run the spirit four times and generally oven roast the barley giving no peat or smoke flavour. Bourbons, are in my view a different beast altogether, they are very rough, woody and if anything are a tad young for my liking. so rough is this drop that I know of few who can tolerate it and fewer still who drink it straight.

One oddball in the mix are the Japanese whiskies; the Japanese Love whisky and as such several very prestigious distilleries have cropped up, some even going as far as to import heather and peat from Scotland! There are also other minor distillates from around the globe, New Zealand has an amazing history in whisky production (I will delve into that in a later post), while India and some other middle eastern countries have also dabbled into whiskey production.

Personally I prefer scotch whisky; Islays and Island regions specifically, however, I have been surprised by a couple of bourbons and the occasional rare drop from far distant or local lands.

Borrowed from joejag’s site, a good simple pic although I view Campbeltown as part of highlands personally.

Categories: Basics of whisky, whiskey, and barrelwash, Whisk(e)y | 4 Comments

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