The water of life
Uisge beatha is THE quintessential drink for connoisseurs! You don’t believe me? Then perhaps that’s because the name means nothing to you. But try enunciating the “uisge” slowly and clearly: [w ee sch ge]. Does that help? Ok, I’ll solve it for you: “Uisge beatha” is the original Gaelic designation for whisky, and translates as “water of life”.
But have you ever investigated the golden liquid more closely? If you want to put it very simply, then it can be said that whisky is distilled beer – just without any hops. Because the basic ingredients are almost the same: water, cereal and yeast. As is the case with brewing, in whisky production processes first of all the malt (mostly from barley) is made to germinate, then dried, milled into grist and mixed with hot water in the mash tun. The filtered liquid wort together with yeast then ends up in the fermentation tank. And after fermentation you get: “wash” – this is what the whisky producers call the liquid at this juncture.
Beer is transformed into whisky
To convert wash into the water of life, it has to be distilled. Here, the liquid is heated up several times in what are called stills. This separates the alcohol and a majority of the aromatics and flavourings from the water – and what you then get is: whisky.
But if the beverage were to be put on sale in this state, consumers would probably be more than disappointed: this is because whisky gets its characteristic taste mainly from a maturation process lasting years or even decades: former sherry, wine, bourbon, rum or cognac casks give the whisky its characteristic flavour of vanilla, honey or smoke (to name only some of the numerous taste variations involved).
After being distilled, the liquid reaches an alcohol content of 60 to 75 abv. For a pleasant drinking strength of 40 to 46 abv, water is added to the whisky before it is bottled.
The world’s most upmarket spirit
Presumptively the most fervid whisky aficionado in Regensburg is called Pit Krause: his home houses a gigantic selection of whiskies from all over the world: his private collection numbers approximately 6,000 bottles, making it one most interesting in the world. Because it also contains genuine rarities, of which often only a few bottles were produced. “I’m not aiming for completeness, I just want to own the best-tasting whiskies around: my priorities are enjoyment and awareness-enhanced engagement with the beverage and its raw materials,” explains Pit. But the last thing he wants is for his magnificent delicacies to gather dust on the shelves. “My collection is more of a stock for actual consumption,” adds Pit with a smile. Because he’s the founder of “slowdrink”, a club that has specialised in aware and relishable enjoyment of whisky, rum, beer and wine. Last year, Pit and his slowdrink colleagues held about 80 whisky tastings. At these (how could it be otherwise?), the celestially exquisite nectars from his collection find their way into the glasses of the tasting participants.*
“Whisky is the drink with the most aromas. Just like with beer, the taste is governed by the various cereal and yeast varieties used. A second important factor is maturation in casks: because the casks pass their flavour to the whisky during storage,” explains the passionate whisky expert. But it’s precisely the maturation in casks that makes whisky not only an aromatic beverage, but a costly one as well: firstly, the casks used for this purpose command prices ranging between 100 euros for a bourbon barrel, and up to an incredible 2,000 euros for a carefully chosen authentic sherry cask. And secondly, long years of storage are a substantial cost factor, too.
With or without an “e”?
“Whisky” or “whiskey” – so which spelling is correct? In actual fact, there is no right or wrong here: while the USA, Canada and Ireland designate their beverage as “whiskey”, what the Scots put in their glass is called “whisky”.
But if you associate whisky only with these four countries, you couldn’t be more wrong. Japan, India, Australia, France, England, Austria, Switzerland, … – the list of nations in which whisky is produced is a long one. And in Germany, too, popularity levels are rising: approximately 300 distilleries are already producing whisky and the fan community of whisky-drinkers is also getting bigger by the day. It can safely be stated: the whisky wave is not only headed for Germany, it has long since arrived here.
P. S.: One more fact to show off with: since 2012, the third Saturday in May (and thus today 21 May) has always been Scottish World Whisky Day. Perhaps you, too, might feel encouraged to treat yourself to some whisky this evening instead of wine or beer?