In recent years, whisky has moved out of elite gentlemen’s clubs into the collective bar space which means every self-respecting barfly needs to know their scotch from their single malt. We asked our resident whisky expert for a crash course in aqua vitae from Islay to India…
Scottish whisky – find it at Buenos Aires Polo Club
Scotch, whisky that comes solely from Scotland, aged for a minimum of three years, is most often double-distilled, whether a blend from several distilleries or a single malt which comes from a sole plant. Today, there are six production regions:
Highlands whisky reflects the region’s dramatic scenery; full-bodied and oaky but balanced with fruits, honey and occasional notes of smoke. Go for Highlands pours like Glenmorangie if you are after pungent and powerful.
The Lowlands were made famous for their triple-distilled malts, making whisky like Auchentoshan that is much more gentle, fruity and flavoured with lighter notes of grass, ginger, cinnamon and toffee.
Speyside is home to more than half of Scotland’s distilleries – think Glenfiddich, The Macallan, The Glenlivet – producing light, sweet whisky packed with fruity, nutty flavours that tend to be less peaty than other scotches. Peated whisky is given a smoky flavour by the compounds released by the fires used to dry malted barley.
Campbeltown is a tiny peninsula region with three distinct distilleries, producing whiskies that are all at once sweet, salty, smoky and fruity.
Islay is a little island that makes its name with big, smoky whiskies that lean into peat flavours. Arguably the most pungent of Scottish whiskies, they are heavy on smoke, tar and salty sea salinity. Try Laphroaig for a true taste of Islay.
The whiskies of The Islands, a small north-western region from Arran to Orkney, evoke the saltiness of the sea and an overarching smokiness, but flavours differ widely across the region. They are generally balanced between the level of peat and sweet.
American whiskey – find it at Carbone
Traditional American whiskey, from the days of moonshine, is made from 80 per cent corn and aged in uncharred oak barrels but for a shorter time than its other grain counterparts, boasting more natural flavour notes, with common hints of toffee and butter.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon uses at least 51 per cent corn aged in new, charred white oak barrels with a signature sweetness. To be called straight bourbon, it must be aged for a minimum of two years. Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark and Jim Bean embody the spirit of bourbon.
Spicy, full-bodied Rye Whiskey takes on elements of the new-charred oak barrels in which it is made, adding distinct notes to the mash of more than half rye. Its popularity has recently been rediscovered, replacing classic bourbon in many modern renditions of Old Fashioned cocktails.
In Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniel’s, a recipe of at least half corn, aged in new-charred oak barrels and filtered through active-sugar maple charcoal (known as the Lincoln County Process) results in the region’s smooth eponymous whiskey.
Today, the American whiskey industry is navigating new, unregulated territory in the proliferation of the country’s Single Malts. Freer to create without strict guidelines from authorities, American Single Malts run the gamut of flavour profiles, levels of peatiness and production methods. Controversial and debated as they may be, there is no arguing the pique in interest and boom in popularity for this impossible-to-define category in the world of whiskey.
Japanese whisky – find it at Fukuro
Historically, Japanese whisky was consumed in late-night watering holes, or izakayas, by working men drinking highballs. A few years ago there was a surge in popularity and price, making Japanese whisky, specifically Nikka, Hibiki and Suntory bottles, highly covetable around the globe. It continues to evolve over time but is usually delicate and perfumed with sweetness, smooth to drink and lightly floral. Some have a dry, smoky element to them but the thing that makes them most special is the time and pride taken to make each batch better than the last.
But how did it all begin and why is Japanese whisky such a strong force in the industry? Over 100 years ago, Masataka Taketsuru travelled to Scotland to learn everything he could about the spirit, mostly through hands-on experience at several Scottish distilleries. While there, Taketsuru recorded every aspect of the distilling process before heading back to his homeland to share his knowledge and single-handedly laid the foundation of the Japanese whisky industry. Upon his return, he co-founded Suntory distillery and then, in 1934, he went solo and launched his own distillery – Nikka. Today, they are still two of the biggest names in not only Japanese whisky but global markets and echo the spirit of the man who started it all.
Decades later, Japanese whisky shows elegance and a lot of attention to detail. Details like water used from pristine mountain springs, the shape of the stills and the type of wood used in the aging barrels, most commonly mizunara, from a tree found only in Japan that lends its own fragrance to the spirit.
Indian whisky – find it at New Punjab Club
One of the greatest whisky-consuming nations across the globe more than half the whisky consumption in the world and more Johnny Walker Black Label than anywhere else), the rise of Indian whiskies in the last few years has been immense. Although still loyal to traditional counterparts, India allows its tropical climate to forge the flavours of its spirit. Warmer temperatures mean that more water evaporates during the maturation process and causes the alcohol content to rise. This also accelerates the process so whiskies mature much faster. Flavour notes include cinnamon, honey, oak and abundant fruitiness, tinged with more spice than smoke. Indian whiskies are more frequently matured in casks than oak barrels, which lend another layer of distinction. A standout distillery, Amrut, makes the case for Indian whisky internationally, propelling the nation’s produce forward.
Amrut Single Malt is made from 100 per cent Indian barley, giving it a greater spice content while Amrut Fusion is created from a combination of 75 per cent Indian barley and 25 per cent smoky Scottish barley; integrating to form a smooth blend of spicy and smoky.
Most notably, Amrut Rye is made from 100 per cent European Rye. It is matured for five years in a new American cask, giving it sweet notes of vanilla and caramel, creating an elegant balance with the spicy fullness of the rye.
Ready to take a sip? Why not pair your pour with a party, with a little help from our friends over at New Punjab Club in our guide to partying like a Punjabi.