Whisky. The most popular spirit in the world. Enjoyed, collected and sampled by millions and the cornerstone of any bar. But, although you may enjoy it, so you really know much about it? In this article, we at Frootbat decided to dig a little deeper into where single malt whisky hails from, how it’s made and why it’s considered so very special.
Single malt whisky is considered to be the finest expression of the whisky family. With the highest price points and discussed enthusiastically by whisky connoisseurs, this is very special stuff indeed. So where does it actually come from?
Although single malt whisky can be made in any country in the world, its link to Scotland and its ‘Scotch’ remains extremely strong, with most distillers using the Scotch Whisky Regulations to produce the expression.
The History of Single Malt Whisky
Whisky is thought to have been originally brought over to Scotland from Ireland by monks six centuries ago. The first mention of the spirit has been traced back to the 1494 Exchequer Rolls that detail Friar John Cor making ‘aqua vitae’ (the Latin translation for water of life, which was widely used as the term for spirits) by order of the then king.
Soon after this, in 1505, the distillation of whisky was put into the hands of the barbers. An odd seeming choice, perhaps, but would have certainly made for an enjoyable haircut!
The following centuries, however, weren’t so kind to the early whisky fans. The various governments of Scotland started to tax the production of whisky, making it so expensive to produce that a black market of illegally produced Scotch began to emerge. The English Malt Tax of 1725 shut down much of Scotland’s whisky’ production and drove many Highlanders to bootlegging. Luckily, in 1823, Parliament passed an act making commercial distillation much more affordable again. It as a Mr. George Smith who was the first person to take out a license for a distillery under the new law, which began the 1824 official founding of the Glenlivet Distillery. Now one in 50 jobs in Scotland is supported by the whisky industry.
What Exactly is Single Malt Whisky?
With such a rich and controversial history, it may not surprise you to discover that single malt whisky still carries a bit of controversy with it today. By its very name, ‘single malt’ still creates a little confusion amongst spirit fans…
Many people assume that “single malt” refers to a single whisky from a single barrel.
This is actually not the case. What a “single malt” actually defines is a malt whisky, prepared in the traditional Scottish way, and produced by a single distillery.
So, a “single malt” (apart from some limited individual cask expressions) is actually produced by merging together dozens of individual barrels of whisky. As long as they follow the above guidelines, they still qualify as a single malt.
So, how is it made?
Single Malt whisky is made from the traditional Scottish distillation process. Local barley is taken and soaked in local spring water, left to germinate for around a week and then dried or ‘malted’ in large, peat-fired kilns. The peat used to fuel these kilns creates a lot of smoke, which infuses the grains leaving the traditional smokey, peaty flavour in the whisky.
The malt is then ground and soaked a number of times, turning the starch of the bark=ley into sugars. This sugar is then dissolved into hot water, creating a sweet liquid known as the ‘wort.’ Yeast is added and at last, fermentation begins. This is when the liquid turns in to what’s known as the ‘wash.’
Then comes the first, second and third distillation. As part of this process, gunpowder is added to a small part of the mixture. If it explodes, the mixture is too strong. What the distiller is looking for is a steady burning, known as the proof. Once perfect, this proof is placed into sherry casks for a number of years to produce delicious single malt whisky.
Single Malt Recommendations for Beginners
With so many single malts to choose from and enjoy, it’s hard to know where to start with your tasting journey into single malt whisky, so we thought we’d give you a helping hand with some famously smooth, flavoursome and excellent recommendations below.
Of course, once you have a taste for the aqua vitae, you can start to really enjoy exploring some of the rarer drams Frootbat has to offer. Enjoy your journey!