Whisky has been known as predominantly a boys business since, well, the first mention of Scotch whisky dating back to around 1495. But, having been involved in the whisky industry for a number of years, I have to say that yes, the majority of whisky enthusiasts and connoisseurs are indeed of the male variety. That said, the whisky set have to be amongst the most welcoming and helpful bunch there is. Anyone, whether male or female, is welcomed with open arms to indulge in the subject that binds each of its followers - the water of life. A couple of times I have been mistaken as a waitress at events, but hey, what can you do? I'm in PR, so I can play the role of waitress if an event requires me to do so...
Whisky is indeed a complex subject, but the thing to remember is that it is also subjective. It is an intimidating liquid, with all of the different finishes, flavours, varieties, brands, regions, each with their own charming and unique characteristics - but the thing to remember is that it is accessible and fun to learn about. More and more females are becoming interested in this wonderful world, and what a good thing this is!
Ladies - I really want you to explore this world, and with a few simple tips, you can sound like you know what you are talking about next time you go for a drink with boyfriend/husband/brother/random stranger whose name escapes you. Ha And here they were thinking you were a 'white wine' girl to the core. You may even surprise yourself and realise that you do actually want to know more. Seriously. It happens.
The five steps of production - A crash course
Once you know the very basics of whisky production - you are well on your way to being able to convince any potential new suitors that you may encounter that you are much more than a pretty face asking for a slim line something or another (nothing wrong with that, however).
Ingredients - Barley, Water and yeast (that's all!)
Malting - Barley is germinated to covert starches into sugar. This is carried out by steeping, germinating and drying
Mashing - This process allows the enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars. This produces a sweet liquid called Wort.
Fermentation - Yeast is added to the Wort. The action of the yeast on the sugar of the wort will produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is done in a vessel known as a Wash Back.
Distillation - This process is used to separate alcohol from water and other substances contained in the wash. Distillation is made in stills.
Maturation - The spirit is but into casks, and left to mature for at least three years (it cannot legally be termed Scotch whisky until this age). It is the ageing process that gives each specific expression its unique characteristics.
There. Basics = done. Now, in the UK (ignoring the obvious Scotland for a moment), there are so many easily accessible ways to edge your way into the whisky world in a very non-threatening, non pretentious way. First step - whisky tasting.
There are many places where this can happen. The Albannach on Trafalgar Square in London is one of these coveted bunch. I met with Cat Spencer (A fellow lady whisky lover), and was taken through a range of whiskies very suitable for the beginner. It was a trip through Islay, Speyside, Highland and Lowland, Wales and Japan all in one enjoyable evening. The above are the regions where Scotch whisky is produced and each has their own unique qualities. Note that.
Whisky tastings can be selected based on your level of knowledge, and what you hope to get out of the experience, but please by all means request the list below - it gives a great, well-rounded insight into the complexities of each expression, and how statements along the lines of 'I don't like whisky' can be removed completely from the lexicon. You can like whisky. Repeat. You can like whisky.
My menu from The Albannach and brief notes to get you started:
Yamazaki 18 (Japan) - Slight oiliness with hints of citrus. Also quite dairy- almost like a milkshake on the finish... seriously!
The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 (Speyside) - This is aged in ex-bourbon casks before being finished in sherry casks. A taste of cinnamon coupled with a nutty sweetness and a bit spicy. On the nose it is sweet and fruity.
Cragganmore 12 (Speyside) - Light, sweet and honeyed. It is quite aromatic and floral, with a bit of smoke on the long finish. Perhaps even tangy and a little grassy.
Mortlach 16 (Speyside) - It tasted of ice cream! It really does. It is fresh with more than a hint of vanilla. Heather and toffee tastes on nose and the palate
Penderyn Madeira (Wales) - Slightly dry, very fresh and verging on bitter. To nose it almost has an earthy, rotting quality yet a sweet and warming finish
Jura Prophecy (Island) - Very smoky. Heavily peated with hint of pine on the nose, with a sweetness cutting through on the finish
Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Islay) - The nose is strong. The spirit breaks through here. Sweet and smoky, with a salted caramel taste
Bruichladdic 2003 Organic (Islay)- It is very light, and tastes as though it could be from Speyside. It smells of a barn, cut hay and quite fresh. Honey and custard flavours carry throughout. A smooth finish
Caol Ila Distillers edition Moscatel cask (Islay) - Quite Christmassy. Nutty on the nose, with traces of burnt sugar. Quite spicy with and a soft peat on the palate
For whisky tastings like the above, visit:
http://www.albannach.co.uk/Suggest a correction