Singular Malt Sensations
For too many Americans, a glass of scotch is a pale, nondescript sort of drink, usually served over too much ice and tasting vaguely of iodine. No wonder your dad told you it was an acquired taste. But a good single malt scotch is as different from the typical blended liquor as a filet mignon is from a fast-food burger.
If you have even a passing interest in single malts, you've no doubt heard of or tasted Glenfiddich, an immensely popular whisky whose bottle comes packaged in a distinctive black tube. "Above all, Glenfiddich's success is attributable to the fact that it is the most 'accessible' malt and easy to drink at any time of the day," the company's Web site explains.
While I don't agree with the malt snobs who sneer at anyone gauche enough to order such an accessible drink -- it is, in fact, a perfectly decent whisky -- settling for Glenfiddich is a bit like eating a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and thinking you've had great Italian cuisine. You can do better.
Water of Life
Writers about strong drink invariably tell you that the word whisky derives from uisge, which is an abbreviation of uisge beatha, Scottish Gaelic for "water of life." They'll also tell you that distilling was first done in monasteries, to produce medicine.There are a lot of notions about the origins of whisky, but I like this one, from an excellent site called Malt Madness: "The most popular theory has some Irish monks hopping across the Irish Sea to Scotland around the year 700 to spread the gospel -- along with the secret of distillation -- among the barbarians. However, these Irish monks didn't invent distillation itself; this was discovered by Arab scholars." Monks or no monks, whiskey (with an "e") is an alcoholic liquor distilled from grain, such as corn, rye, or barley, and containing approximately 40% to 50% ethyl alcohol by volume. Whiskey is now produced all over the world, but whisky is only produced in Scotland. Malt whiskey is produced from barley that has been soaked in water and allowed to germinate for a few days (a.k.a. malted barley). With the exception of water and yeast, no other product or fermentable material is added. And some of the really strong whiskeys, known as cask strength, don't even have added water. Other whiskeys are made from different grains; bourbon, for example is distilled from a mixture of corn and rye.
|Isle of Islay
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