As a band of travel bandits who like to explore the nooks and crannies of the world for lovely liquor, we like nothing more than to share our findings. Who knew, learning can be fun!
We’ve complied a little light reading below on some of our favourite spirits of the moment. Want to know more? No problem…pop to the bar, speak to our friendly team and discover how we use these spirits in our cocktails, or just enjoy them straight up!
Where it all began.
The story of Scotch begins as early as the 15th century. The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland occurred in 1494 in the tax records of the day, the Exchequer Rolls. An entry lists “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.” Friar John was in luck – this was enough malted barley to produce almost 1,500 bottles of a potent spirit which would be refined and improved in the years ahead.
The increasing popularity of Scotch attracted the attention of the Scottish Parliament, looking to profit from the fledgling industry. The first taxes on Scotch were introduced in 1644 which led to an increase in illicit whisky distilling across Scotland.
One of the most well-known tax collectors of the 18th century was Robert Burns - Scotland's bard. He trained as an exciseman before turning his attention to writing some of Scotland's
most loved poetry. In 1785, Burns wrote "Scotch Drink" - an ode to whisky and the nature of happiness - of community, cooperation, warmth and a friendly welcome.
By the 1820s, as many as 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year, and more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was being enjoyed without the taxman taking his cut.
In 1823 the Excise Act was passed, which sanctioned the distilling of whisky in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit.
Until now, the spirit – illicit or otherwise – had been Malt Whisky. But, in 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Patent Still which enabled a continuous process of distillation to take place.
This led to the production of Grain Whisky, a different, less intense spirit than Malt Whisky.
The lighter flavoured Grain Whisky, when blended with the more potent and fiery malts, extended the appeal of Scotch Whisky to a considerably wider market.
Scotch Whisky must, by law, be distilled and matured in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years and bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% abv. The robust legal protection of Scotch – vital to safeguard a spirit globally renowned for its quality – has grown over time.
The first definition of Scotch in UK law was secured by 1933, with a dedicated Scotch Whisky Act in 1988 and new Scotch Whisky Regulations in 2009.
Categories of Scotch Whisky
Single malt, blended malt, blended, single grain and blended grain Scotch. Single malt Scotch is made in a single distillery from a mash using only one particular malted barley, contains no corn or grain and must be matured in oak casts in Scotland for at least three years.
Malt whisky is distilled at least twice in Pot Stills. The first is the Wash Still, which is heated directed by flame or steam-heated coils. The second is the Spirit Still, where the master distiller will ‘make the cut’. Different flavouring agents evaporate at different temperatures and it is the art of the distiller to cut at the right time to get their preferred balance.
Blended Scotch is a mix of malt and grain whisky, sourced from several different distilleries and where anything up to 50 different whiskies are used. Blending was pioneered by Andrew Usher in Edinburgh in the 1860s. This was mainly due to Pot Still Malt Whisky being strongly flavoured for everyday drinking. By combining malt and grain whisky, it produced a milder whisky with less pronounced characteristics.
Traditionally, Scotch is almost never aged in new barrels. Used Bourbon and Tennessee whisky casks are generally used. It is common for ageing to be concluded in wine casks, such as Sherry or Port.
However, the newer expression has started looking at new woods and a mixture of both bourbon or new oak barrels with a blend of sherry, port and rum barrels.
This is the process when whisky is matured in a cask of a certain origin and then spends time
in a cask of a different origin.
The cask may have been used to mature wine such as Sherry, Port or Madeira or varietal wine such as Burgundy or Chardonnay. This is known as double matured, wood finished or cask finished.
When wine barrels are emptied, the essence of the wine remains in the wood. When refilled with a spirit, it ‘chases’ those vinous characters out of the wood, adding flavours and colour.
Single malt regions of Scotland
Speyside – has the largest number of distilleries
Highlands – effectively, the areas surrounding Speyside and the Islands
Lowlands – located south of an imaginary line between Glasgow and Edinburgh
Islay – a small, rugged island off the west coast of the mainland
Campbeltown – area around the town on the Kintyre peninsula
One of the most frequent Google searches relating to whisky asks: “Is Scotch whisky always made in Scotland?”. Simple answer. Yes, yes it is!
Simplified, whisky is basically beer without the hops that has been distilled up to four times. The more it is distilled, the smoother it becomes, although it can lose some of its signature flavour.
Not particularly angelic. ‘Angel snare’ refers to the 2% of whisky that evaporates from the barrel every year. Not just the government taking their cut of this nectar!
And even less angelic, longer aged barrels also have the ‘Devil’s cut’, the share that the devil takes that is lost through barrel leaks.
The ancient term uisge beatha, which is Gaelic for the Latin aqua vitae or 'water of life', was corrupted in the 18th century to usky, and then to whisky.
The combining of Malt with Malt or Grain with Grain is known as vatting.