Talking about whisky is second only to drinking it. Here are some of our favourite whisky facts to roll out next time you’re sharing a dram. To help us add to our list, we spoke to Maker’s Mark brand ambassador Cameron Pirret to share some of his expert knowledge.
— Whisky is often dismissed as tasting fairly the same but one of its most undervalued qualities is its variety. Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Japanese, Single Malt or Blended? Hunting for your perfect dram is the best part about the love affair with whisky.
— Maker’s Mark is the first heritage listed American distillery, established in 1954 by Bill Samuels Snr. It still uses the original wooden vats made from cypress planks more than 100 years old.
— Distillation first came to Scotland and Ireland around the year 1000 via travelling monks. The first recorded account of whisky is dated to 1405, where it was written that the head of a clan died after drinking too much of it at Christmas.
— In Gaelic, whisky is called ‘uisge beatha’ which means ‘water of life’.
— We have King Henry VIII to thank for the popularisation of whisky. When he dissolved the monasteries in 1536, newly independent monks had to find a way to sustain themselves. Selling whisky proved to be incredibly lucrative.
— Each Maker’s Mark bottle is still hand dipped in its trademark red wax.
— During prohibition in the United States, alcohol was completely banned. You could, however, drink whisky if you could convince a doctor that you needed it on medicinal grounds. Doctors would write prescriptions for whisky and it was sold in pharmacies.
The first recorded account of whisky is dated to 1405.
— In 1875 a fire broke out in Dublin and a warehouse containing 5,000 barrels of whisky were destroyed. As a result, a six-foot-wide, two-inch deep river of whisky flowed through the streets of the city and 13 people died from drinking too much of the free booze.
— An un-aged American whisky is often called ‘white dog’.
— Today, whisky is one of the most heavily regulated liquids on the planet. If you import whisky into the EU, you better make sure it’s aged for a minimum of three years if you want to label it as such. Scotch, much like Champagne or Cognac, can only be called Scotch if it originated in Scotland. Similarly, rye and bourbon have to be made from at least 51% rye grain or corn respectively.
— When whisky first comes off the still is completely colourless. The drink gets 100% of its colour and about 60-70% of its flavour from the barrel it is aged in.
— Oak is the preferred wood for aging whisky. A lighter coloured whisky will generally have spent time in an American oak barrel while a darker whisky generally means it’s been aged in a European oak barrel.
— Distilleries use barrels that have been previously used to hold other spirits like bourbon, sherry, port, or Madeira in order to infuse their spirit with the remnant flavours of those drinks. Bourbon, however, can only be aged in brand new white oak casks.
Oak is the preferred wood for aging whisky.
— Colour can be deceiving. The Scotch Whisky Act of 2009 allows for ‘plain caramel colouring’ to be added to Scotch whisky. This is ostensibly so that distilleries can keep the colour of their product consistent across the range but is almost certainly used by unscrupulous suppliers to trick unsuspecting customers into thinking a product is older or better in quality than it really is. The Scottish government does not require whisky producers to label such ingredients and even the most exclusive distilleries do it.
— Whisky is a huge business. Scotland exports whisky at a rate of around 2500 bottles per minute. Whisky is also one of America’s largest exports and they sell about a billion dollars of it each year.
— George Washington ran a whisky distillery and in 1799 was the largest producer of whisky in the country.
— Kentucky is the home of bourbon and produces 95% of the world’s bourbon. In fact, there have been over 1700 distilleries in the state and there are currently more barrels of bourbon aging there then there are people.
— During the aging process, a proportion of the whisky evaporates through the barrel which can be as much as 2% annually. This is known as ‘the angels share’ and does explain why older whiskys are generally more expensive as the product is literally hard to hold onto.
— All that evaporating alcohol makes whisky warehouses extremely flammable places. So, as a means of protection, most distilleries will get their neighbours to store a bit of their whisky for safekeeping.