A Woman’s Tribute to a Man’s Drink

March 1, 2010 Off By Mani Padma

It is Holi and (ahem! ) to make matters better it is an extended weekend too. So what do all men do in such a scenario? Well, almost all men at such times – I think, raid the wine shops, not all mind you, but almost all. Just curious , but what exactly do they buy? Of course I know alcohol, what else ! But what? What sells most? I mean, is it Beer? Rum? Brandy? Scotch? What? Ah my encyclopedic friend here has stated that according to some survey, the most preferred drink among Indians is Whiskey. ( He says that it does not necessarily mean that it sells most. Now whatever does that mean?!! ) So Whiskey is it? Well suddenly I have this urge to celebrate International Women’s Day, no no not by drinking Whiskey , but by defying Indian tradition and raiding – nooo! not a wine shop either but- a predominantly male domain and learn some hard facts about this hard drink called Whiskey.(Stop snickering guys! I mean it )

Yes ! Thats It. I am going to share what with you what I learn about Aqua vitae and leave you to judge about my handiwork. Aqua vitae! You have not heard about it? Yay! Round One to me! Yes Whiskey was known by its Latin term , Aqua vitae or water of life in early days, as early as 1494 as per the records of a Monk called John Cor.(Eh! Drunken Monk?) Guess What! It was thought to possess medicinal properties. Now isn’t that funny!

And now that I have decided to set about this task, let me go in a proper legal manner as I am a very law abiding citizen ( Oh ! Please ! No need to make an issue of my minor demeanors).Here I would like to take a short break from my flow to make a statutory warning:
Whiskey is a strong spirit which consumed in excess may lead to alcoholism and damage one’s health. Alcohol was , is and always will be an addictive drug. Though earlier it used to be said that drinking whiskey in quantities upto 100 ml reduced risk of a heart attack, its has now become disputable. And as written in a book “ high quality whiskey is a refined and usually quite expensive drink, it is certainly not intended for chugging. Moderation is an essential for any true connoisseur of whiskey.”

So lets begin…. (what?) Sorry for the interruption again but my encyclopaedic friend has suddenly butted in and said that I am not at all qualified to write about it as I have never tasted it. ( Can you imagine his audacity ?!!!) Quiet my friend ! Let me silence you and all my potential critics regarding this by taking a ceremonial sip of this Water of life. ( Yes yes I had taken all the necessary permisions from all quarters to attempt this stunt) 10 ml of Vat 69 + 20 ml of soda= Yuuuuuuckss! Cough cough ! Nope not my cup of tea. And hmmm! I do feel queer..or is it psychological?Leave it ! I am still fine and my handwriting still looks the same to me. So I can continue…

Well where to start from? The history or the definition?

Definition- Every country has different definition and variations sometimes depending on legal regulations but universally -it has to be a distillate made from grain, yeast and water that matures in wooden casks for a certain period of time, resulting in a strong spirit that is called Whiskey (with an e)in the case of Irish and American whiskeys or Whisky as in certain countries like Scotland, Canada , Japan etc ( now if Shakespeare would have been alive would he say “Whats in an e?”…)

Speaking of Shakespeare , let move on to its brief history.
History- It was probably first introduced to Scotland by the Gaelic people from Ireland.
The name whiskey was derived from the word- usquebaugh which again came from the term uisge beatha in Scotland and uisce beatha in Ireland which meant water of life .
Before giving you the recipe- Aha! Do I see sudden alert eyes? No dears ,when I said recipe I meant a little about whiskey distillation and not an easy to prepare ,home-tested recipe of Whiskey. So before going into Distillation let me give you a overview of the wonderful whiskeys available round the world.

Irish Whiskey- produced in Ireland must be matured for at least three years.
Scotch Whiskey- a legallly defined term, stating that it has to be produced in a Scottish distillery , made from malted barley or another grain that has been mashed with water and fermented by addition of yeast and distilled to an alcoholic strength of no more han 94.8 percent alcohol by volume. And yes, it has to be matured in a wooden cask. ( Phew! That was quite a collection of terms and conditions.)
American Whiskey – Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey.
Malt whiskey- made from malted barley.
Single malt-consisting exclusively of malt whiskey distilled at a single distillery.
Single grain whiskey- produced by single grain distillery, usually made from corn, wheat, rye and malted barley.
Straight Whiskey- also called pure whiskey made from at least 51 percent of single kind of grain, the alcohol content not exceeding 80 percent by volume-to be matured for at least two years in a new oak cask. Did not seem to be a straight and simple matter at all!
Then of course there are pure pot stills, types of blends and types of straight whiskeys, which will require pages if one was to elaborate on them. The blends- yes you got it right, as the name suggests, is a mixture of several different whiskeys. The blend’s vintage is year of the youngest whiskey. That was huge, isn’t it? So before you get thirsty and head for the bar, lets move on to Distillation.

Each distillery has its own own unique and top secret recipe for blending them just so. Them -the three essential ingredients-grain, water and yeast.But these are the basics brought to you as simply as possible.
Distillation starts with Malting- A very scientific stage during which the barley is brought to germination- a carefully controlled process where the germination must be stopped at the right time. The flavour of the final whiskey can be strongly influenced during malting as well and consists of the subdivisons of

  • Preparation and steeping
  • Germination
  • Kilning
  • Application of Peat

Then comes the second stage of Mashing which again involves grinding the previously derived malt(the germinaated barley if I am not mistaken) in a mill breakng the grains open in order to release the sugar they contain, to be finally used in fermentation, and producing a mish mash called Wort.

Fermentation :The yeast is added at this stage to the wort, And it is this stage that adds flavour to your peg of whiskey-Thanks to the multitude of lactic acid bacteria profilerating at this stage.
After which comes the main stage of Distillation.

During distillation the alcohol contained in the fermented wort is seperated or distilled from the water in maybe two or three distillation processes comprising if you remember from your school days, cooling and condensing to obtain the spirit.But wait, it is not over yet. Remember, the whiskey has to be aged too and that too in wooden casks. And often oak casks. After distillation the malt whiskey spirit has an alcohol content of 70percent but best results are obtained at 63.5percent and that is when, water comes to play. I think our milkman follows the same principal too. But bhaiya that is milk you have, not malt , so please correct your fundamentals!

So the distillate is now casked and stored and left to be matured. The minimum maturation time is two to three years depending on individual countries. I wish the same could be said about us humans too! However most whiskies are significantly matured longer than that After maturation the whiskey is bottled and neatly packed to reach your pockets. But at the bottling station the whiskey is frequently cold-filtered to achieve a perfectly transparent whiskey without any fine particle.Of course sometimes the production can be extended to blending , but officialy the whiskey is prepared. So there you are! Even if you try to experiment at home with the little bit confusing and highly cryptic information that I have provided you cannot have it before three years, right? By then I am sure your mom, wife , or girlfriend will come to know what you are up to and…..So it is just better to buy, right?

But do you know how to store whiskey bottles?
It is imporant to store whiskey bottles upright to prevent alcohol from affecting the cork. Bottles should be protected from sunlight and the best place to store whiskey at home is in a cupboard with solid doors at room temperature ( I know this suits your purpose fine). Bottles that are nearly empty should be finished as soon as possible since the substantial amount of oxygen in the bottle can stongly influence the whiskey. Ah this suits you all the best! Other than that, whiskey can be stored for a looooong time. Phew that was a long winded topic and all those bits of information has made me thirsty, so let me go for a sip of… ginger tea.
I could not go into the brands and the other informaton like the preferred snacks with it and the art of whiskey-tasting here but if your response is favourable. then that part will be followed by my Teammies- Rakib and Hashan in a later issue.

By the way a trivia- India is one of the largest producers of Whiskey with production growing at the rate of upto 50 percent.
Indian whiskey is prepared from molasses. Thanks to liberal laws!
And yes, did you know that India’s largest distillery is based in Bangalore?Guess what this distillery of Aqua vitae is called. Amrut !!!!!

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