Whisky 101 – Part 1
Welcome to Whisky Love. I’m Don Love, an avid fan and collector of whisky from around the world. For several years, I’ve been buying, tasting, researching, and debating the merits of whisky. It’s a fascinating world, steeped in history and tradition.
This site is intended to educate folks about the world of whisky and to help develop a taste for and appreciation of whisky. Although it can take a while to develop a taste for whisky, the sometimes unpleasant task of drinking it will eventually lead for an appreciation for and eventual love for the wide variety of whisky tastes from around the world.
The first time that I tasted whisky, I spit it out and said that it tasted like turpentine with pepper in it. Not that I had ever taken a drink of turpentine. It took a year of force feeding myself an ounce per week before I could really tolerate it. Five years before I could handle a smoky one. I still struggle with some Bourbons.
It’s a learning curve. A slow appreciation. Like oysters, or olives. Or caviar. But worth the investment.
So where did it all begin? If we look back several hundred years (about 1200, actually), we have clear evidence of formalized distillation. Probably in the region of modern Iraq. Not sure why. Maybe that’s where everybody lived back then. So, imagine a scene where a pot of fermented mead or wine is placed on a fire to warm it up. Someone puts a cloth or animal skin over the pot, to protect it from the elements. After a short while, clear liquid starts to condensate down the inside of the cloth and drip onto the ground. Or into a pot. Someone tastes it and it tastes pretty darn good. Voila- early distillation. The first hangover is created.
Flash forward a few hundred years to early European settlements. The creation of meads and early beer-like beverages has advanced through the incorporation of yeast and fruit or grain into water. Mostly by monks who have gradually moved into the area. Through trial and error (and a few blind monks from accidental ingestion of wood alcohol), distillation becomes more formalized and controlled. The result is a distilled alcohol product that gains in popularity, for obvious reasons, in the ensuing decades and centuries.
Imagine further, an enterprising young merchant who decides to stockpile a bunch of the alcoholic spirit, “uisge beatha” or “water of life”, for future sale, fermented and distilled to use up some surplus barley. He has a few old wooden barrels for storage. After a few months, he discovers that some of the “aged” product tastes good. He decides to keep, and maybe sell, the product aged in the old fruit barrels and wine barrels. He dumps the whisky stored in the pickle barrels and pork barrels and starts to learn which barrel types made the product taste better. The world of whisky is started, and has continued to be refined and improved upon ever since.
In my next segment, we’ll look at the basic elements of whisky and how it’s made.