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Whisky Language

Now that you know the basics, the next step to no longer being a complete Philistine is to learn whisky language.

There are three types of whisky, blended, grain and single malt, and all whisky has to be matured in oak casks for a minimum period of time. In Scotland, for example, it is three years and in Australia it is two years.

You are unlikely to have ever had a straight Scottish grain whisky and it is doubtful whether there are even any for sale in Australia, but you will definitely have had grain whisky if you have ever drunk a blended whisky. Scotch grain whisky is distilled in a column or reflux still (more on that later), which means that it is basically unfiltered grain (barley, either malted or un-malted, wheat, maize) vodka that has been aged in an oak barrel for three years. It is cheap, and easy to make in huge volumes, and is the backbone of blended whisky.

On the other hand, most American and Canadian whiskey is grain whiskey and is made in a variety of ways, using both pot and column stills, and varies in quality from standard Jim Bean and Jack Daniels to works of art like Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye. Rather than a blend of various grain whiskeys, American whisky is usually made with a combined mash right from the start. In other words, instead of making separate whiskies from various grains and then blending these, they brew the wash from a combination of grains. The recipe is known as a mash bill.

Whisky or whiskey – the Irish and the Americans call it whiskey (with the exception of Makers Mark), while the rest of the world calls it whisky. During the late 19th century the Scots were producing terrible whisky using Coffey stills (column stills) and so the Irish and the Americans added an “E” to differentiate themselves.

Blended whisky is the most common form of Scotch whisky and one of the biggest selling alcoholic drinks categories in the world. Johnny Walker leads the pack with 19.7 million 9l cases or 28.1 million bottles. Glenfiddich is the biggest selling single malt at 1 million 9l cases or 1.4 million bottles, but to put it into context, there are 18 blended brands that sell more than 1 million cases, totaling 66.5 million cases or 95 million bottles, and the crazy thing is you probably have never heard of most of these brands. As the name suggests, it is a blend of grain and malt whisky. The rule of thumb is that the cheaper the whisky, the less malt whisky that it contains.

Malt whisky is at the opposite end of the scale and what this club is all about. The rest of this website goes into great detail about malt whisky, but for now all you need to know is that a malt whisky is made in a copper pot still from malted barley grain and water. Single malt is one that has been made and bottled by a single distillery and vatted malt is a blend of malt whisky from two or more distilleries (not to be confused with a “Blended” whisky. To confuse things a little, most single malts are in fact vatted malts, in the sense that the distiller matches several (sometimes hundreds or thousands) barrels to create a desired flavour). However, because all the whisky comes from, and is bottled by, the same single distillery, the end product is still single malt.  An example of this is typical 10-year-old single malt.

At the very pinnacle of whisky perfection is the single cask. This is whisky from one single barrel that is of such a high standard that it can be bottled without being mixed with whisky from other barrels. Most distilleries have super premium single cask expressions, and out of interest, most Tasmanian whisky is bottled as single cask because it is very good quality.