scotland

23 Unusual Facts About Whisky

Visit Islay with a Rabbie’s tour.

Our friends at Rabbie’s, our travel partner for our Scotch whisky travelogue series on Amazon Prime, have given us 23 fun facts about whisky. How many of them did you know already?

Bernard Shaw described whisky as liquid sunshine, and we can’t help but agree. Although the sunshine can be a little bothersome the next morning when you’ve indulged in one too many glasses.

Mark Twain begs to differ, however, as he’s famous for boldly declaring “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

What could we possibly have to tell you about whisky that you haven’t heard from these great poets, playwrights and avid whisky drinkers? You’d be surprised. Whisky has a long history and its makers and consumers are fond of a good blether. 

So whether you’re a whisky aficionado or have only just begun your love affair, you may be surprised by a few of the following facts:

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  1. Whisky or Whiskey - what’s the difference? The Irish spell it with an ‘e’ whereas the Scots spell it without one. This is due to the variations between Scottish and Irish Gaelic.

  2. The New York Times famously used the word ‘whiskey’ with an ‘e’ to encompass all forms of the spirit from all locations. This caused so much outrage amongst readers, they were forced to change their style guide to reflect the appropriate spelling for their regional distribution.

  3. Many distilleries store casks of whisky belonging to other brands and distilleries in their warehouses. This way, if a fire or catastrophe occurs, they won’t lose all their stock. 

  4. The term whisky in Gaelic translates to ‘water of life.’

  5. When whisky is stored in barrels for maturation, approximately 2% of the liquid evaporates per year. This is called the ‘Angel’s Share’ as this portion of liquid gold seemingly disappears into the heavens. It keeps the angels in good spirits.

  6. Moonshine is typically un-aged whisky with a high alcohol content, which is made illegally. It’s called moonshine because it would be created under the light of the moon, hidden from the eyes of the authorities.

  7. A bottle of Macallan Valerio Adami 1926, 60-year-old was sold for £848,750 in 2018, setting a new world record for the most expensive bottle of whisky.

  8. Whisky doesn’t age once it’s bottled. So there isn’t much point in saving it for a rainy day, just crack it open when you feel like it.

  9. Whisky gains its colour from the barrel it’s aged in. Sometimes, for the sake of product image, brands may put caramel colouring in a batch to make the whisky look more consistent when bottled on the shelf. The additive isn’t supposed to affect the taste of the whisky. 

  10. Scotland relies on a constant supply of oak casks previously used to store bourbon in the US for maturing whisky.

  11. Much of the flavour of a batch of whisky will depend upon what was stored in the cask previously. Bourbon, sherry, rum and port casks all generate different finishing flavours.

  12. A Swedish distillery has just started using AI to help generate the perfect whisky recipe based on past and current consumer trends.

  13. Surprisingly, France and India are two of the biggest consumers of whisky, alongside the US. 

  14. The iconic American soda brand Mountain Dew was originally intended to be a chaser for sub-par whisky.

  15. Just as the Brits say “cheers”, the Germans shout “prost” and the Spanish yell “salood,” you’ll find the Scots chinking whisky glasses and saying “Slainte,” which means “good health,” as they share a dram with friends.

  16. Contrary to popular belief, nosing isn’t the act of sticking your conk in other people’s business. It’s what you do when you inhale the aromas of a fine whisky before drinking it.

  17. A copper dog is a device that was used by distillery workers to smuggle whisky home after a hard day at work. It’s copper pipe with a penny soldered on one end and a cork stopping the other. A wily employee would dip it into the cask to fill it with whisky, and then smuggle it home in his trouser leg.

  18. When the TV show Mad Men hit the air, it spurred a significant spike in orders for Old Fashions at bars worldwide. In some areas, the demand for Canadian Club almost doubled.

  19. Diageo, one of the world’s largest distillers, released a Game of Thrones collection of Whisky in 2019, in preparation for the final season of the hit TV show. They paired Scottish distilleries with the prominent family houses of the seven kingdoms. Each was matched up carefully, considering house traits alongside distillery history. Cardhu was paired with house Targaryen for its past of strong female ownership. 

  20. Ardbeg, a popular Islay distillery, sent vials of their whisky to the International Space Station in 2011 to see how the gravity in space would affect compounds of the whisky over time.

  21. The term ‘dram’ widely adopted in the Scottish vernacular, is believed to have evolved from an apothecary’s units of measurement.

  22. Keeping with the theme of whisky and medicine, during the prohibition era the only whisky legally imported by the US was scotch whisky, as it was often prescribed to ease many illnesses.

  23. And last but not least, Humphrey Bogart’s final words are rumoured to have been “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.” May we live and learn from Bogart’s mistakes.

Discover whisky for yourself on a tour with Rabbie’s here!

Deanston: Creators of organic whisky

In recent times, a few distilleries have been making whisky with organic barley. Benromach have an expression from 2010 which they bottled this year. Laphroaig bottled one for the Highgrove estate and Bruichladdie have an organic whisky from 2009. There is even a distillery which has only just opened which is 100% organic, the Ncn’ean distillery. But there is a distillery which has been thinking about and producing organic whisky for longer than all of these. Deanston has a 15 year old organic whisky, which means they started making organic whisky as long ago as 2003 when whisky was only just starting to grow in popularity in the way it is today.

To make organic whisky, the barley or course must be organic which is more expensive. The casks also must be organic, the casks have to be scrapped and charred deep enough so that the spirit doesn’t come into contact with an non organic material, and the easiest way to make sure of this is to use virgin oak casks, so Deanston finish the organic spirit in virgin oak casks so give the spirit extra sweetness. Virgin oak casks are made from American oak which have not previously held any other liquid before the new make spirit is placed in them. Lastly, and by far the most difficult part of the process is the cleansing of the distillery itself. To be certified as an organic whisky, the spirit can not be created in the stills if a non organic run of spirit has been passed through them. The easiest way to manage this is to make organic spirit directly after the distillery has been cleaned during its maintenance period. Usually over the Christmas period. But they make organic whisky at other times of year which impacts on the main production. Asking Dr Kirsty McCallum, Deanston’s master blender why they make organic whisky, she tells me there are two reasons. The distillery was founded in 1967 by entrepreneurs and creating organic whisky continues this entrepreneurial spirit going, but mainly it is because it tastes good. It has a slightly different character than their other whiskies, being more floral and delicate.

Ideally, Deanston would like to have their organic barely grown in the local area giving the whisky an even stronger sense of place. One thing is for certain though, if they manage to create such a whisky, it is going to be delicious.

By Colin Hampden-White

What is organic Whisky?

Did you know that whisky can be organic? Meet the distillery leading the way: Deanston. Colin Hampden-White, tells all…

In recent times, a few distilleries have been making whisky with organic barley. Benromach have an expression from 2010 which they bottled this year. Laphroaig bottled one for the Highgrove estate and Bruichladdie have an organic whisky from 2009. There is even a distillery which has only just opened which is 100% organic, the Ncn’ean distillery. There is however, a distillery which has been thinking about and producing organic whisky for longer than all of these: Deanston. Deanston has a 15-year-old organic whisky, which means they started making organic whisky as long ago as 2003 when whisky was only just starting to grow in popularity in the way it is today.

How Do You Make Organic Whisky?

To make organic whisky, the barley or course must be organic, which is more expensive. The casks also must be organic. They need to be scraped and charred deep enough so that the spirit doesn’t come into contact with any non-organic material, so the easiest way to make sure of this is to use ‘virgin oak’ casks. Deanston finish their organic spirit in virgin oak casks, which gives is a lovely, extra sweetness.

Virgin oak casks are made from American oak which have not previously held any other liquid before the new make spirit is placed in them. Lastly, and by far the most difficult part of the process, is the cleansing of the distillery itself. To be certified as an organic whisky, the spirit can not be created in the stills if a non-organic run of spirit has been passed through them. The easiest way to manage this is to make organic spirit directly after the distillery has been cleaned during its maintenance period, usually over Christmas. However, Deanston still do sometimes make organic whisky at other times of year, which impacts on the main production. I asked Dr Kirsty McCallum, Deanston’s master blender, why they make organic whisky, she told me there are two reasons:

Deanston Makes Organic Whisky For Two Reasons

The first reason was that the distillery was founded in 1967 by entrepreneurs who decided that creating organic whisky continued on the entrepreneurial spirit. The second reason however, is because it tastes good, with a slightly different character to their other whiskies; more floral and delicate.

Ideally, Deanston would like to have their organic barley grown in the local area giving the whisky an even stronger sense of place. One thing is for certain though, if they manage to create such a whisky, it is going to be delicious.

RRP £95.50 Find it here.