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WHISKY, or WHISKEY

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 592 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WHISKY, or WHISKEY, a potable spirit distilled from cereal grains. The name is probably derived from the Celtic uisgebeatha (water of life), which was subsequently contracted to usquebaugh, and still later to whisky (cf. Skeat, Etym. Did. s.v.). The liquor known as "usquebaugh " in the 17th and 18th centuries was not, however, of the same character as the whisky of modern times, but was a compound of plain spirit with saffron, nutmegs, sugar and other spices and flavouring matters. Whether the term whisky to denote a plain type of spirit was used concurrently with usquebaugh, or whether the latter name covered both varieties, is not clear. It is certain, however, that an alcoholic liquor, derived mainly from grain, has been prepared for very many centuries in both Ireland and Scotland (see SPIRITS). There are three main types of whisky, namely, Scotch, Irish and American. Scotch whiskies may be broadly divided into two main groups, namely (a) pot-still or malt whiskies, and (b) patent-still or grain whiskies; the former are made practically without exception from malted barley only, the latter from a mixture of malted barley and other unmalted cereals, chiefly rye, oats and maize (see SPIRITS). (a) There are four main varieties of Scotch malt whiskies, namely, Highland Malts, Lowland Malts, Campbeltowns and Islays. The Highland Malts are produced (if we except a few distilleries on the islands in the west and north) in the district on the mainland lying north of an imaginary line drawn through Dundee on the east and Greenock on the west. The largest group of distilleries is in the famous Speyside or Glenlivet distfict. WHISKY 591 The Lowland Malts are made south of the imaginary line alluded to. The Campbeltowns are distilled in or near the town of that name at the southern end of the Kintyre peninsula. The Islays are produced in the island of that name. These different varieties of whisky, although made in much the same way, yet possess distinctive characteristics of flavour. The type of barley employed, the quantity of peat employed in curing the malt, the quality of the water, the manner of carrying out the various distillery processes—particularly that of distillation—the shape and size of the stills, &c., all these are factors which affect the flavour of the final product. The Islays, which, as a rule, are considered to be among the most valuable of Scotch whiskies, possess a very full and peaty flavour together with a strong ethereal bouquet. For this reason they are much used for blending with whiskies of a lighter type. The Highland Malts proper (Speyside type) are less peaty than the Islays, yet possess a full flavour, although many of them are inclined to be " elegant " rather than " big." The Lowland Malts, again, are, as a class, less peated than the Highland Malts, and indeed, nowadays, in view of the growing taste for a more neutral class of beverage, there are some Lowland Malt distilleries which dispense with the use of peat altogether. Many of the Lowland Malts possess considerable body and flavour, but, on the whole, they are lighter and not so fine as those of the Highland variety. Lowland distillers are now running their spirit at much the same strength as their Highland colleagues, whereas formerly it was the custom to work at a far higher strength. The result is that the difference between the two classes of spirit is not so marked as it was. The Campbeltowns, although in some respects similar to the Islays on the one hand, and the Highland Malts on the other, are somewhat rougher and less elegant than these. They usually possess a full peaty flavour. (b) Patent-still or grain whiskies are, as a class, lighter in flavour and " body than the pot-still types. This is due to the fact that the rectification of these whiskies is carried a good deal further than is the case with the " malts." They are made from a mixture of malted and unmalted cereals, and, as no peat is employed in the curing of the malt, they lack the " smoky " flavour of the other varieties. Some controversy has arisen as to whether these patent-still spirits have a right to the name of " whisky " or " Scotch whisky," but although, no doubt, this controversy is largely due to conflicting trade interests, it has also, in the author's opinion, been caused by a very general popular misconception as to the true character of these whiskies. The idea that they are true " silent " or " neutral " spirits—i.e. alcohol and water pure and simple—is quite incorrect. They possess a distinct flavour, which varies at different distilleries, and analysis discloses the fact that they contain very appreciable quantities of the " secondary " products which distinguish potable spirits from plain alcohol. Indeed, as a result of an extensive investigation of the question Composition of Scotch Whiskies. Note.—The figures below are based on a large number of analyses of typical samples. Cf. Schidrowitz and Kaye, Journal Soc. Chem. Ind. (June 1905). Where two figures are given in the same column, they do not indicate extremes, but merely normal variation. (Results expressed in grams per too litres of absolute alcohol.) Description. Total Non-volatile Hi her Alcohol. Acid. Acid. Esters. Alcohols. Aldehydes. Furfurol. Highland Malts— Practically all Scotch 15 Nil 5o 140 to 2.5–3 New light type . whiskies are distilled at New heavy type about 2 O.P. (about 20 Nil 75 200 20–40 3–5 Mature light type 72 % of alcohol by -80 X50 2–3 Mature heavy type . volume). Prior to stor- 20 5 35 50–1°° 220 15 50 2.5–4.5 Lowland Malts— age they are reduced 15 Nil 25–50 110–18o 2.5–4'5 • New . . . to t 1 O.P. with water. Mature . . Mature whiskies con- 2o–6o 5–20 50–75 120–200 15–5° 2–3.5 Campbeltown— tain 45 to 6o % of alco- 20–30 Nil 50–70 180–220 20–40 3–8 New hol according to age, Mature . . humidity of store, 3o–8o 5–25 6o–120 230–250 30–70 2'5–7 Islay 1 &c. For retail sale, .. .. .. . . Grain Whiskies— whiskies are reduced to Trace to 5 Nil 20–40 50–6o 2–10 Trace to 0 75 New a strength of roughly 25–50 5–25 25–50 6o–7o 5–15 Mature . . 17 to 24 U.P. 1 The Islays give similar figures to the Highland Malts except that the Higher Alcohols and Furfurol are slightly higher. with that employed for Scotch " grain," but as a class they are somewhat lighter as regards flavour and body than the latter. Irish whiskies are not classified territorially, although occasionally the distinction of " Dublin " or " Country makes " is recognized in the trade. Broadly speaking, however, the differences between Irish whiskies are not due to class, but to individual variation. American Whisky.—There are two main varieties of American whisky, namely, Rye whisky, the predominant raw material in the manufacture of which is rye, and Bourbon or corn whisky, made mainly from Indian corn (maize). Both varieties possess a much higher flavour and greater body than do the Scotch or Irish whiskies, due partly to the class of raw material employed, and partly to the method of distillation. Broadly speaking, the American self (so-called " straight ") whiskies contain double the quantity of secondary or " by " products present in Scotch or Irish whiskies. American whiskies are almost invariably stored in very heavily charred barrels, which, while it very appreciably affects the flavour, is necessary, inasmuch as it is doubtful whether it would be possible to mature these exceedingly heavy whiskies within a commercially reasonable time without the cleansing and purifying effect of the charcoal formed by the burning of the cask. Even with the aid of the charred cask, the average maturation time of the American pot-still whiskies is certainly two or three years longer than that of Scotch and Irish whiskies. (P. S.) Composition of Irish Whiskies (Analyses by Schidrowitz and Kaye). by the author, it has been shown that the relative proportion of '` secondary " products in Highland Malt, Lowland Malt and " grain " whiskies respectively, is roughly as 3 : 2 : I. The figures in the foregoing table illustrate, as far as we are at present able to determine them, the general composition of the various types of Scotch whiskies referred to. The character of Scotch whisky is much influenced by the manner in which it is matured. Chief among the factors in this connexion is the nature of the cask employed. The main varieties are plain wood, sherry and refill casks. Technically the term " plain " wood is applied to a cask made from seasoned oak which has contained no other liquor than whisky. Similarly the term " sherry " wood is as a rule only applied to a cask the wood of which has become impregnated with sherry by con-tact with that wine, and which has not been used in any other manner. A sherry cask which has been filled with whisky, then emptied and " refilled ". with whisky, is known as a " refill." Brandy and Madeira " wood " are also occasionally employed. The nature of the atmospheric conditions of the cellar is also of importance in determining character and quality (see SPIRITS). Blending.—Scotch whiskies are, as a general rule, " blended " prior to sale to the public. By " blending " is understood the art of putting together different types and varieties of whisky to form a harmonious combination. The general run of " self " whiskies—i.e. whiskies from a single distillery—do not appear to be to the public taste, but by combining different kinds of whisky blenders have succeeded in pro- ducing an article the demand for which has in-creased enormously during the past quarter of a century, and which may now be regarded as a staple beverage in all English- speaking countries. The great expansion of the Scotch whisky trade of late years is undoubtedly due in the main to the introduction of blending on scientific lines. There are different types of blends. In some a Highland Malt, in others an Islay, in ethers again a " grain " flavour may predominate, but, generally speaking, the aim of the blender is to produce an article in which no single constituent " comes through "—i.e. is markedly apparent. The best blends are produced by blending a number of " vatted " whiskies. A " vat " is produced by blending a number of whiskies of the same style or type, for instance, ten or fifteen Highland Malts from different distilleries. The " vat " is allowed to mature before being blended with other types to form the final blend. The better-class blends contain, as a general rule, 50 to 6o% of Highland and Lowland Malts, 10-to 20 of Islays, and about 20 to 40 %of " grain " whisky. A typical high-class blend would, on analysis, show figures much as follows: Alcohol, 45 to 48% by vol.; total acid, 30 to 50; non-volatile acid, 20 to 30; esters, 30 to 6o; higher alcohols, 120 to 170; aldehydes, 15 to 25; furfurol, 2.5 to 3.5• Irish Whisky.—Irish pot-still whisky is sharply differentiated from the Scotch variety in that (a) the raw materials employed are generally composed largely of unmalted grain, (b) the malt is not peat-cured, (c) the process of distillation is entirely different both as regards method and apparatus (see SPIRITS). The result is that whereas Scotch whisky possesses a characteristic dry, clean flavour, Irish whisky is round and sweet, with a full ethereal bouquet. The general run of Irish pot-still whiskies are made with 30 to 50% of malted barley, the balance being rye, oats, unmalted barley and wheat. A few distilleries employ malted barley only, but the product so obtained—owing to the different methods employed and the absence of peat curing—is quite different from Scotch malt whisky. The Irish " grain " or " patent still " whiskies are made in a manner practically identical
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