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The word whisky is an anglicization of the Classical Gaelic word uisce (or uisge) meaning “water”. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels.

There are many ideas around whisky and each one of us has different images. From Cowboys to Scottish highlanders, the world of Whisky is much more complex than you think. If you want to unveil some of its secrets, you need to embark on a journey made of passion, know-how, and pleasure. Here are ten questions about whisky you always wanted to ask and never really dare to do so. It is a nice way to explain certain details and maybe we might convince you to start a new “spiritual” passion.

Question number 1: What is whisky made from?

Whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley.


Malt is a germinated cereal grain that has been dried in a process known as “malting”. The grain is made to germinate by soaking in water and is then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air. Various grains are used for malting. There are a number of different types of equipment that can be used to produce malt. A traditional floor malting germinates the grains in a thin layer on a solid floor, and the grain is manually raked and turned to keep the grains loose and aerated. 


Question number 2: How do we obtain whisky? What is the distillation process?

The principals for the distillation of whisky have changed little over the last 200 years. Just three basic ingredients are needed – water, barley, and yeast. Technology now aids production, but traditionally there are five stages to the process – malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation. There are five steps to obtain a good whisky, here is a quick summary of the process.

Step one: The Malting
Everything starts with the raw material, malted barley. The malting is a crucial step as the grains need to be perfectly malted with no humidity and rottenness. Each distiller has its own secret formula, but they all need a type of barley that produces high yields of soluble sugar. The grains are soaked in warm water for 2 or 3 days and then dried on the floor maintained at a constant temperature.

Step two: The Mashing
Once the grains went through the malting, they start a new process, called the Mashing. The grains are added to warm water to begin the extraction of the soluble sugars. Water needs to be as pure as possible, generally from a natural source. The liquid combination of malt and water is called the ‘mash’. It is put into a large vessel called a mash tun and stirred for several hours.


Step three: The fermentation!
Here the yeast is added and the fermentation begins. The addition of the yeast will initiate the process to transform sugar into alcohol. This process takes normally 48 hours but some distillers are happy to let the fermentation longer in order to create a chosen effect. The liquid at this stage is called ‘wash’ and is low in alcohol strength (between 5-10% ABV), like beer or ale. You could make beer from the liquid at this point, but the difference with whisky is that the liquid is now distilled rather than brewed.

Step four: The distillation
Different countries can have different distillation methods. For example, Scotland would distill the wash twice whereas Ireland will distill the wash three times. The stills utilized for the distillation are made in copper and generally, they work in pairs and are heated traditionally with coal but modern distilleries might use gas or steam. For whisky, distillers will use alcohol from the middle of the distillation, also called the heart.


Step five: The maturation
When the alcohol is collected, they are put into oak casks and stored at least for a minimum of 3 years. During maturation, the flavors of the spirit combine with natural compounds in the wood cask and this gives the whisky its own characteristic flavor and aroma.

Question number 3: What is the difference between whisky, whiskey, and bourbon?

This is a good question as many people and even media do not always make the difference. First things first. From a product point of view, there are no differences between WHISKY and WHISKEY. It is a language difference. WHISKY is the Scottish way of writing it and WHISKEY is the Irish way of writing it. Both names coming from the Gaelic variants. Therefore, either you pick up the best word you want or if you wish to be on expert mode, you would say a Scottish whiskY and an Irish WhiskEY.


Bourbon is a different game. Here you should never confuse Bourbon and Whisky. Bourbon is a very regulated business since the 19th century. Too many distillers tried to change its nature and propose several alternatives, which came to an and thanks to strict regulation. This regulation is collected within what we call the “Bottle in Bond Act of 1897″. Most of Bourbon production is done in Kentucky. To define Bourbon, you need to have the following mandatory criteria:

  • It needs to be produced in the United States
  • The beverage needs to contain at least 51% of Corn
  • Must be aged in new oak-charred barrels
  • Must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125 proof.
  • Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.
  • Must not contain any added flavoring, coloring or other additives.

So when you used to watch a good Hollywood Western, cowboys (and cowgirls) drank bourbon and not whisky. In the wild wild west period, bourbon was a cheap, easy to make, good to preserve in the long run. Therefore it became very popular. Cinema made it very popular being the “real man’s beverage”.

There is another designation which is Tennessee Whiskey. This reflects a corn based distillation made in Tennessee USA which is slightly different from Kentucky Bourbon.


Question number 4: Is Scotland the only country producing whisky?

Scotland and Ireland are the most well-known countries producing whisky but you will be surprised to see how many countries have developed specific know-how in Whisky distillation. Please find here the top 12 producers of whisky worldwide.

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Scotland
  • Taiwan
  • Tasmania
  • Taiwan
  • USA

The whisky world market is supposed to grow by 7.6% year on year until 2023 and it represents a true revival. Even countries that you would not even imagine do have whisky distillers. For your reference, Scotland is the biggest producer of whisky in the world. with almost 100 distilleries and more than 700 million liters a year, Scotland overcomes all the other countries. When you do the math, there are 42 bottles of Scotch whisky being exported out of Scotland every second.

Question number 5: I heard there is a Swiss Whisky. Is that true?

Whisky production was forbidden in Switzerland until the 1st of July 1999. Swiss law prohibited the use of staple foods such as grains and potatoes to be used for the purpose of distilling. However, with pressures from the WTO, Switzerland gave up the law which was also used to lower the tariffs on imported spirits. Switzerland is gaining some attention in the whisky world. Some distillers are doing a fantastic job. Even Scottish experts agreed on the fact that Swiss distillers have a true talent in distilling fine spirits. This undoubtedly lies in the long tradition of distilling fruit brandies like Williams and Kirschwasser


This is also come from the fact that Swiss people love whiskey. The annual whisky consomption of the country is around 1.9 million liters. As Swiss distillers truly admire the Scottish tradition, they have decided to call this distillation whisky and not whiskey. Here are 3 amazing Swiss whiskies you need to taste at least once in your life:

Appenzeller Säntis Malt
This whisky was first distilled in 1999 and since 2003 the distillery only uses barley and grains grown in Switzerland’s mountain areas. In 2010, this whisky was rewarded as whisky of the year by Jim Murray. The whisky is aged in old beer barrels and distinguishes itself for its caramel and honey notes. You can read more here about this Swiss distillery:

Holle Single Malt
This is Switzerland’s first whisky produced since 1999 by the Bader Family in Lauwil. The whisky is aged in white and red burgundy barrels, which procures special honey and apple-caramel notes. More information about Holle here:

Rugenbräu Swiss Highland Single Malt
This is one of the newcomers in the whisky distillation sector. Originally from Interlaken, the famous region of the Jungfrau mountain. The specificity of this whisky is that the distillation is aged in white oak sherry barrels. They also have a whisky that is aged on top of the Jungfrau that develops notes od cedarwood and pepper. More information here:

Question number 6: Should we drink whisky in a large short glass like in Mad Men?


We all have these images of Don Draper drinking whisky in large short glasses. The famous whisky on the rocks. The question is: Are these glasses the best glasses for whisky tasting? Probably the answer is it depends. Generally the “madmen whisky glass” also known as “old fashioned whisky glass” is the perfect glass to create whisky cocktails. You can easily mix your preferred whisky with other ingredients in order to create amazing aperitif cocktails.

Nevertheless, if you are a true whisky connoisseur and want to enjoy every single facet of your precious whisky, you might want to adopt another shape of glass. Copita style glasses feature a tulip shape with a broad middle and a tapering top. These glasses allow aromas to gather and to be directed to the drinker. The Glencairn glass is widely considered the “official” glass of Scotch whisky. It can comfortably hold around 2 to 4 ounces.


Question number 7: What is the difference between Blended, Single Malt and Single Cask?

The art of whisky distillation is complex, refined and requires a true passion for the product. Multiple labels have developed across the years but the main five are:

  • Blended
  • Pure Malt
  • Single Malt
  • Single Grain
  • Single Cask

Blended whisky t is generally the product of mixing one or more higher-quality straight or single malt whisky with less expensive spirits and other ingredients. This typically allows for a lower-priced finished product, although expensive “premium” varieties also exist. Blended whiskies are back to the head of trends, especially in the cocktail world thanks to brands like Monkey shoulders.


Pure Malt is a whisky made at 100% of malted barley whereas Single malt is a whisky made at 100% of malted barley as well but from one single distillery. The first denomination do not contain the idea of specific location.

Single grain is a tricky one. Although the word “single” means that the whisky comes from an unique distillery, the denomination “single grain” means that the whisky is not necessary made from malted barley. It can be done with 100% wheat, corn or rye. In case you like whiskies made of barley, you should be careful if you get a bottle of single grain.

Single cask represents one of the most exclusive designations of whisky. Generally, it is dedicated to high premium and exclusive brands. This denomination means a premium class of whisky in which each bottle comes from an individual aging barrel, instead of coming from blending together the contents of various barrels to provide uniformity of color and taste. Japan seems a great connoisseur of Single cask whiskies and many Japanese whisky premium brands only propose Single cask bottles. Brands like Karuizawa have amazing ultra-exclusive single casks that can value between USD 2’500 to USD 8’000.


Question number 8: What is the best way to do a whisky tasting?

Probably the best way to taste a good whisky is to do it in good company. But if you are lucky enough to have an exceptional whisky within your hands, you might want to proceed with a serious whisky tasting. Once you have found the right glass (read above), you start by pouring 2 ounces in your glass. You turn in circles your glass in order to liberate all the flavors of the whisky. Then you take a long and slow breath so that you can experience all facets from the scent.

We advice to taste the whisky in ambient temperature, no ice cubes. Ice is water and water will dilute the whisky taste. Some experts would advice to poor just a few drops of pure water. This will help liberating the heart of olfactory and gustative notes of the whisky. Please make sure you drink your whisky with great responsibility for a pleasant moment rather than a rush. Take your time as whisky can be very complex, especially if you are just starting your passion.


Question number 9: Why certain whiskies have a smoked taste and smell?

Some brands will be renowned for the smoky whisky they will produced. The strong smoked facet tends to be a spectacular signature for Scotch whiskies. Where this scent & flavor comes from? It comes from the whisky manufacturing process. In order to make whisky properly you need to heat the barley in order to stop the germination process (that would convert starches into sugars which later becomes alcohol thanks to the yeast fermentation). The most abundant fuel source for starting a fire to complete that task was peat, and as it burned, its signature smoky embrace washed over the barley, imparting those flavors straight into the grains.

Another brand renowned for the smokiness of their whisky is Ardbeg. Considered as one of the most smoked whiskies in the world, Ardbeg represents more than 200 years of know-how based in the Isle of Islay in Scotland. The peat harvest in the isle contains specific elements that will provide the uniqueness of Ardbeg whisky. Some of their creations like the Ardbeg 10 years old or more recently the Ardbeg Blaaack are signature whiskies for the smoked element You can read our full review of Ardbeg whiskies here.


Question number 10: Three whiskies that deserve to be tasted?

The best way to finish this educational article is to go from theory to reality. Please find here three whiskies we would advice you to discover and taste. Get the right glass, the right friends and the perfect moment. Whisky is a generous moment of sharing that you spend with friends and family. Take your time and do not forget to always be responsible with your drinking. It is about discovery and pleasure rather than rush and stress.

Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 15 Year
People who know Bowmore whiskies, have in mind two important facets: peatiness and sweetness. The first Bowmore distillery was established in the isle of Islay in Scotland in 1779. The distillery utilizes a whole range of the island’s malts to produce its whisky. The 15 years old is a great balance between the strong character of Islay’s Scotch whisky and the sweet notes obtained by three years of final maturation in ex-sherry casks. You need to try. Check the website here:


Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1990 Single Malt Whisky
This distillery has been capitalizing on its unique recipe for the past two hundred years and nothing can really go wrong with a bottle of Glenmorangie. It was back in 2016 that Glenmorangie released the Vintage 1990. It is by far one of the most prestigious aged whisky of the distillery and has been created for whisky lovers. The Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1990 is very facetted, presenting notes of cinnamon, cumin all wrapped in sweet and deep notes. Visit the brand website here:


Ardbeg Ten Years Old Islay Single Malt
This whisky is revered around the world as the peatiest, smokiest, most complex single malt of them all. Yet it does not flaunt the peat; rather it gives way to the natural sweetness of the malt to produce a whisky of perfect balance. Named World Whisky of the Year in 2008. As the taste lengthens and deepens, dry espresso, liquorice root and tarry smoke develop coating the palate with chewy peat oils. You can learn more about this whisky by visiting the brand website:


After this worldwide horizon about whisky, I do hope you have a different opinion about this prestigious spirit. We are far away from the high-school’s Cuba libre with J&B. Whisky has gained a more connoisseur, expert audience in the past 5 years. With more than 500 whisky brands in the world, there is maybe an untapped territory for you inside each bottle of the finest whiskies.

José Amorim
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