Posted in Kafevend Blog
Continuing our series on spirits today is a delve into the history and make up of whisky, a firm favourite for leaving on the mantelpiece for a certain chimney climbing visitor.
The name whisky has evolved over several hundred years, beginning with the Latin aqua vitae, meaning "water of life"- not to be confused with aqua regia or fortis meaning "acid". This name comes from terminology used during the Middles Ages, and over time came to refer to distilled alcohols. The name formed the basis for several types of distilled alcohol such as the French eau de vie for brandy and the Gaelic uisge beatha for whisky.
The earliest signs of whisky in Britain can be found in texts dating back to the 15th century. The very earliest in 1405 talks about a chieftain named Richard who "died at Christmas by taking a surfeit of aqua vitae. Mine author sayeth that it was not aqua vitae to him, but aqua mortis"- a fairly inauspicious entry into the history books! This obviously didn't put others off, as near the end of the century in 1494 records show an order given to a Friar John Cor to make some 500 bottles of the Gaelic aqua vitae. Just over a decade later, it appears that King James IV was also fond of whisky thanks to his treasurer's account recording a purchase during his visit to Inverness.
Christian missionary monks were believed to have brought the practice of distillation into Scotland, though it could be argued that the local farmers had figured out how to make a potent brew with their left over grains all by themselves before then. The Scottish were certainly very fond of making their own whisky in later years. As duty taxes were imposed in the 17th and 18th centuries, distillers were driven underground and took to making whisky by night, giving rise to the name "moonshine".
Whisky uses grains such as rye and wheat. Whilst barley is also a grain, whisky made using it has earned the distinction of the alternative badge malt whisky, due to the process of germinating the barley. The barley is ground up and mixed with hot water to produce a mash, which is then fermented with the addition of yeast. The resulting mix is distilled twice, concentrating the alcohol to around 60-70% ABV before it is put into casks to age. Like France's appellation d'origine contrôlée and its proctection of the Cognac brand, Scotland had a similar legal system put in place by the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 act. The law defines a stringent set of standards that must be met in order to merit the name Scotch.
Our initial tie in to the series was the spirits we add to our coffee, and whisky is one of the best. As spirits go though it can be quite potent, so for those looking for something a little more mellow, you might like to go for an Irish coffee and savour that creamy Baileys.