Once I began looking at whisky differently, not only did it open up my senses but in the process it also invited a lot of ‘cuckoo’ eyes. Somehow the world around me found it to be dumbfounded, nonsensical and crazy. And when I began to explain why the sudden turn of events in my outlook, they just felt disconnected from what I experienced.
It felt like I was surrounded by barbarians (pun intended) who just loved their clubs, meat and wine; gulping down liters, while burying their yellow tainted teeth into chunks of meat and growling out loud! It seemed as if drinking liquor and being able to hold it was in some form a great way to show your masculinity. And there are times even now, when I talk with people about their preferences and whether they indulge in the occasional nip, a few answers turn out to be how ‘wasted’ they were the previous weekend or how John Doe was able to hold himself even after emptying a bottle or two.
I’m not sure when did I experience my rebirth, but somewhere along the line I was deeply interested in how just three basic ingredients: grain, water and yeast would deliver such variety of flavor, depth, texture and aromas.
I find it to be very befitting that it were the Irish monks that invented this divine drink; who else better, right? And who says people didn’t know science in the 15th century. You’ve got loads of chemistry, and physics coming into play that brings all the components to permeate together in a very harmonious way.
Chemistry for example starts at the very beginning where you would encourage the barley to malt. There is so much attention to details, for example: the quality of the water being used needs to be paramount, too much iron content and the whisky loses its characteristics!
Traditionally in Scotland and Ireland, malted whiskies are distilled (science again!) in copper pot stills. Why copper? Well other than the fact that it is a great conductor to heat (physics… yay!), it also reacts with sulphur compounds in the wash (fermented malted barley) and therefore purges any kind of foul taste.
One dimension of the whisky comes from the minerals and nutrients imparted from the soil through the wooden casks being used. The other comes from the temperature and humidity which allows the whisky to expand and contract within the barrels, seeping in and out of the wood while absorbing more flavors (wood sugars, lingering bourbon/sherry notes and tannins) as the years go by.The depth of the whisky is enhanced the more it is aged as it allows the whiskey not only to live and breathe within the wood but it allows nature to infuse itself into the spirit.
I certainly haven’t gone into the details of whisky making, but I do want to implant a seed of interest that will inspire you to explore this alchemy. And maybe have a greater appreciation towards this golden colored aqua vitae!