Last week was Cayman Cocktail Week and we organized Arturo Savage's 'Whisky Lab' event for the first time in the Cayman Islands. It was also the first time that regular customers outside of the bartender world got to do it in the entire North Western Hemisphere. AAAANNNND we did it 3 times!!
Whisky Lab gave our guests the knowledge about blends like Johnnie Walker and Single Malts like Talisker and Cardhu that enabled them to design and create their own signature blend to take home. A lot of whisky was tasted and some pretty amazing whisky blend names were produced. Some of my favourites being 'For Peats Sake' and 'I Give A Dram'.
When I finally had time to sit down and actually take part at our private retail store lab on Thursday, I feel like I learnt a lot of things about whisky that I never knew before. Number 1 being that it takes hours to pour 11 different blends and single malts into a hundred tiny test tubes and tasting glasses. HOURS.
Anyway - here are some whisky facts written by a whisky novice and hopefully all understandable! Feel free to show off to all your friends the next time someone starts talking about whisky.
1. Whisky without an E is from Scotland. SCOTCH whisky in fact. With the E and it could be from Ireland or may even be American rye or bourbon. In Canada, whisky is generally spelled without the E as well, probably because it derives from Scotch whisky in the first place while American derives from Irish Whiskey. Confusing? Maybe a little. In JAPAN is it also whisky without an E and likely because it is closely modeled on traditional Scottish whisky.
2. REFLUX - this is a little technical and has to do with the shape of the still. The shape and height of the still dictate how much reflux happens (when the evapourated alcohol in the still travels up the still and then falls back down to keep distilling without yet reaching the condensing run). A taller still means more reflux as it takes longer for the alcohol to reach the condensing pipes. To allow even MORE reflux, some stills have condensing arms that run upwards making it even harder for the liquid to get all the way up. More reflux means a lighter whisky (Talisker) and less means heavier whisky (Glenkinchie).
3. Smoke in a blend - you only need a tiny amount of a peaty malt to impart that characteristic into a blend. A blend is about balance and complexity - a symphany in which every single malt plays it's musical part.
4. Single Malts are blends (technically) - A Single Malt (Macallan, Cardhu, Talisker, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie) is created using a blend of whiskies from various barrels within the same distillery. The aim is to create the house style and keep it consistent using the barrels in their aging facilities. People who drink Talisker 10 year want it to always taste like Talisker 10 year but no single cask ever tastes exactly the same, so we use a blend of casks to create the finished product.
5. Blends like Johnnie Walker - A blend is a blend of Single Malts and grain whisky. Johnnie Walker uses a standard 50/50 malt to grain whisky ratio whereas the industry standard is 30/70.
6. BUT Johnnie Walker Green Label (recently returned from exile) is a blend of only Single MALTS. It's also delicious.
7. The ingredients in a blend may change all the time. Simon had a great analogy - Lets say Johnnie Walker Black is 100. You need to create that flavour using all your Single Malts and because they are also always changing, your maths to get to 100 may change too. One time you might use 25+25+25+25 (Cardhu+Talisker+Dalwhinnie+Caol Ila) to get to 100 but the next time maybe you have to use 10+30+30+10+20 (Cardhu+Talisker+Glenkinchie+Dalwhinnie+Caol Ila).
8. What does this mean for age statements - honestly an age statement doesn't make much of an impression on me. It should be the taste of the liquid that does shouldn't it? Anyway, in both blends and single malts it is the youngest liquid going into the whisky that dictates the age statement. So your Macallan 12 year will have a blend of Macallan barrels that have been aged for 12 years or MORE. The ages in it too will change as the blender works to fit the profile of that whisky.
9. It's really hard to know exactly what you like in a whisky until you've tried a bunch. Therefore go forth and drink some whisky!
10. I'm finding it hard to think of a 10. Perhaps I should just tell you to go have a whisky again. Or wait! Go have a Johnnie Walker Black Label and coconut water because it's delicious and you'll love it.