A brief overview of whiskey and how it is made

Mark Twain once said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” But what is whiskey, how is it made? We look for answers to these and many other questions in the following article. Enjoy. 

Before we move on with the subject, let’s talk briefly about where the word whiskey comes from, what it means, and why two different spellings are used for whiskey. The word “whiskey” comes from the Old Celtic word “uisge beatha,” which translates “water of life.” But many do not know that there are two different spellings of the word whiskey in the world – the Scotch spell it – whisky and the Irish whiskey. The difference in spelling, with the added ‘e’ results from the difference in translation, as the Scots and Irish speak different Gaelic languages. An interesting fact, however, is that when it comes to American whiskey, the Irish spelling, or whiskey, is used, because Irish immigrants were the ones who, long ago, circa 1700, brought whiskey to America.   

Nobody knows exactly when and by whom the first whiskey kettle was made and put on the fire, and disputes over this go on to this day. What we do know for sure is that both the Scots and the Irish both believe that they are the first producers of the water of life that matured in brownish oak barrels. 

But how did distilling of spirits ever reach the British Isles? The monks from the Middle East who brought the secrets of the distillation of strong alcohol to the British Isles in the 6th century, are to be thanked for this. 

Today, whiskey is made in several different countries. In addition to Ireland and Scotland, the United States, Japan, and Canada are the best-known whiskey producers. At the same time, many small European whiskey producers have emerged in recent years, whose whiskeys have won prestigious awards. For example, in 2018, Slovakian whiskey Nestville won the Jim Murray Whiskey Bible’s prestigious European best whiskey award. There are more examples like that, but this is a story for another article.

There is actually nothing difficult about whiskey making, but it is difficult to make good whiskey. In this section, we will briefly look at how whiskey is made and what processes it must undergo. 

No matter what the base material of whiskey, whether it be barley, rye or wheat, the preparation must go through the same processes. Simply put, whiskey is made as follows. It all starts with cereals. In some cases, it is germinated and in others not. The cereals are ground and added to boiling water. The resulting sugar-rich liquid is drained, and yeast is added. After that, the fermented product is distilled twice or more and finally poured into oak barrels to mature. It is during the maturing process in the oak barrels that the whiskey acquires its color and specific taste and aroma characteristics. For a drink which has been distilled twice or more to be called whiskey, it must mature in oak barrels for at least three years. Each step in the preparation of whiskey can be explained in more detail, and it could be shown how each process affects the final product that will be poured into the glass, but we will cover that in another article.  

Whiskey is a magic drink. It is accompanied by different legends, and we are fortunate that the ever-expanding range of whiskey nowadays gives us the opportunity to experience new whiskeys and thereby discover the new and exciting taste and smell experiences.