Wine gets a lot of attention, both in fiction and life. Who doesn’t like a nice glass of Chardonnay while staring at the fire?
But have you considered whisky lately? I’m thinking of starting a cozy series in the world of my short story Carne Diem. The characters would focus on cocktails instead of wine, and the Main Character would be an expert on whisky. So, naturally, I’ve been doing some research. A four-day tour in Scotland taught me a lot. We started in Edinburgh, went to Oban, and took a ferry to Islay. The island has 3000 people and nine distilleries. It is just one of the single malt production areas in Scotland. Ten distilleries (all those on Islay plus Oban), each serving five or six tastings, and you start to feel like an expert.
Single malt whisky is a relatively new spirit outside of Scotland, where it has been made in small batches since the 1800s. Initially, single malt was made exclusively for blended scotch.
In 1963, Glenfiddich decided that single malt needed to be introduced to the world. It took over two decades to get the unique, smoky, spicy, rich flavor to catch on. During the 1980s, single malt finally took off, going from less than thirty varieties to over 100. Today over fifty new malts come on the market every year.
There are arguments over whether to add water to the tasting. In a Scottish pub, it’s a hot enough subject to start a brawl. According to the makers, adding a drop of water to a dram of whisky allows the flavors to bloom. You can even add an equal amount of water to whisky and not lose flavor.
Most single malt is aged in oak bourbon barrels from the United States (bourbon barrels, by law, can only be used once in the US) or sherry barrels from France. The flavor differences add either spice and fruity notes. The scents come through after a nice swirl, just like with wine. At first, all I smelled was smoke, but after the tour, I could identify everything from pepper to banana.
Fun Fact: the spelling “whiskey” with an e is primarily used in countries that have an e, like the United States or Ireland. “Whisky” tends to be used in countries that don’t have an e like Scotland or Japan.
However, you spell it, grab your Glencairn glass and have a dram!