Whiskey tasting 101

Whiskey tasting | SA Men

Whiskey has a very harsh flavour, which many will find too strong to be palatable, let alone enjoyable. At first sip, the taste can be quite overwhelming and many would find this disagreeable. To really appreciate whiskey, it may help to have an understanding of how it was made and what specific flavours to be looking for when tasting it.

So, how is whiskey made?

Whiskey is made in four stages, and is made from a grain called barley. In the first stage, known as Malting, the barley is soaked in water for 2 to 3 days, after which it is laid out and heated over burning peat (to which we owe the smoky taste of whiskey) to allow it to germinate. For 8 to 12 days, the barley germinates, which allows the starch in the barley to become soluble. It is then dried and ground into what is known as grist. This is then mixed with warm water in a large vessel called a mash tun. This forms the second stage of the distillation process, known as Mashing. In the third stage, the sugary liquid produced during the mashing process, known as wort, is drawn off and mixed with yeast so that fermentation takes place. In this way, the sugar in the wort is converted to alcohol. Fermentation takes about 48 hours, and produces a liquid now called wash. In the final stage, Distillation, the wash is poured into large copper stills, where it is heated until the alcohol turns to vapour. This alcohol vapour is cooled down and condensed into a liquid called low wines. Most scotches and whiskies are distilled twice, although some distilleries may distil their whiskies thrice to reduce the harsh peaty flavours.

Finally, the distilled whiskey is barrelled in oak casks and left to mature for anywhere between 5 and 70 years (although the latter is