The Essentials of Whisky
Whisky is rapidly becoming one of the most popular brown spirits in the world today. Rum and cognacs are richer dark liquors that are best suited as a digestif but whisky comes in a plethora of flavours, styles and characters, due to the ageing process and the choice of grain that is fermented.
We sat down with Brendan Khoo, resident bartender at 28 Hongkong Street, who explained to us in detail about whisky in minute detail. With the help of Proof & Company, we broke down Brendan’s explanation into a short video for you. This will ensure that the next time you’re at a drinks session with your boss, colleagues or client and sampling a great bottle, you won’t look like an idiot when he refers to your shot as a ‘dram’. But here are a few more tips for you, just to add on to the wealth of wisdom that Khoo delivers.
1. Whiskies don’t mature any more after they are bottled.
Yeah, you’ve got a bottle of Johnnie Blue or Royal Salute that’s been sitting around for a decade “for the right moment”. There’s no difference between one that’s kept for some time in a bottle and one freshly acquired from the store. Whisky stops maturing the moment you draw it out of the barrel.
2. They don’t spoil (kinda).
To some extent this is true, but like wine and any other liquor, it’s not advisable to keep whisky in extreme conditions of heat or direct sunlight. Cool and dry is the best option if you can offer it.
3. Sherry oak casked whiskies are not better or worse than bourbon oak.
All whiskies are aged in oak casks for some time before they can bear the term. Malt whiskies however are frequently bottled in oak casks that have been used for maturing either sherry or bourbon before. The reason behind this is the idea that it ages better as the sharpness of the wood is reduced through a first use. As sherry has a rich port-like flavour due to the sweetness of the wine, the plummy notes of caramel and chocolate are often passed on to whiskies aged in sherry casks. That’s not to say that bourbon oak casks are less flavourful, but their flavours tend to be gentler and less intense, requiring a more nuanced tasting.
4. Single malt whiskies are not better or worse than blended ones.
When we refer to a single grain or malt or rye whisky, it simply means the liquid has come from a single distillery, aged in various casks and then blended by a master blender from that distillery. All whiskies are blended in some way or other, unless they are specifically indicated to be from a single cask. Blended whiskies amalgamate liquors from different distilleries into a consistent flavour. Purists may find single whiskies to be more representative of a distillery, but that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. It’s a matter of preference. Blended whiskies, for that matter, are blended for consistency so they taste the same across years of bottling.