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There is some conundrum in there which no amount of science can answer
March 30, 2013 6:53 PM   Subscribe

But as whisky scientists point out, it’s not really like that. Water has no influence on malt whisky flavour; barley can come from anywhere, provided that it delivers satisfactory spirit yield; and, in many cases, the newly made spirit is taken by tanker from its beautiful, peaceful, lonely distillery surroundings within a couple of weeks of distillation. It’s then aged in uglier, less peaceful but more logistically sensible locations in central Scotland.
Flavour in malt whisky is attributable to the malt specification, to brewing and distilling practices and to wood-ageing regimes

At Work: The Glengoyne Whisky Distillery
VIDEO: How To Drink Whisky
posted by the man of twists and turns (41 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
The quotes in the FPP are misleadingly rearranged and edited. The article makes it clear that, according to whiskey scientists, that's precisely how it is: "Flavour in malt whisky, those troublesome researchers insist, is essentially attributable to the malt specification, to brewing and distilling practices and to wood-ageing regimes."
posted by jedicus at 6:59 PM on March 30, 2013


[Flipped the quotes to avoid confusion. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 7:19 PM on March 30, 2013


If you are tired of the traditional whiskey reviews ("Smoky, oily and complex..."), you can check out The Malt Impostor, ("On the nose, hamster bedding fresh from the bag. Chicory coffee. Cut Granny Smith apples encased in silly putty. Vulcanized rubber.").

(Transparency disclaimer: I know the folks who do this and have profited an ocassional dram from them.)
posted by benito.strauss at 7:21 PM on March 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


[Flipped the quotes to avoid confusion. ]

Now it just doesn't make any sense.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:29 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Water has no influence on malt whisky flavour...

I wonder about that. Water certainly makes a difference in beer brewing. When I used to make homebrew I used to put epsom salts in the water before boiling the malt and hops. In particular, it is thought that hard water changes the extraction from the hops, which is why the water in Pilsen is supposed to be the best on the planet.

It seems to me that it could change how various flavor components are brewed out of the malt, too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:30 PM on March 30, 2013


This FPP is completely incoherent now. Can we try again please?
posted by unSane at 7:34 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


this helps explain why those stonking great big cheap barrels of costco whiskey are pretty palatable.
posted by boo_radley at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well since it is incredibly related, here is one of the cooperages Jack Daniels uses for their whiskey barrels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BSTmETQp2o
posted by basicchannel at 8:01 PM on March 30, 2013


Get into it. You wanna get right into it to make sure you are examining every part of that whiskey. How do you taste it? Don't knock it back like a cowboy.

That video is made of pure win sauce.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:18 PM on March 30, 2013


Richard Paterson's yt channel.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:21 PM on March 30, 2013


which is why the water in Pilsen is supposed to be the best on the planet

*for brewing Pilsner. For brewing a stout, on the other hand, it's decidedly deficient. Basically, the ions in the water can affect the flavor, and achieving certain regional styles often involves duplicating the water profile for that region.
posted by Slothrup at 8:26 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like mine with good quality Pepsi max
posted by mattoxic at 9:08 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


But as whisky scientists point out

I went to a conference of whisky scientists recently. I go to these conferences, even though I'm not an active researcher, because I like hanging out with people who are doing weird things.

But I have to tell you, whisky scientists are not nearly as much fun as you might think. I tagged along with a bunch of them in the evening, after the conference presentations were done, thinking "now it's going to get interesting! We'll all get drunk and do some serious whiskying."

It didn't happen that way.

We were at a local bar, me and a bunch of whisky scientists, and we were drinking whisky, of course, but after every sip they spent twenty minutes talking about it.

Fucking whisky scientists.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:37 PM on March 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


Water has no influence on malt whisky flavour...

Incorrect. And f**k Diageo while I'm at it, the Wal-mart of the malt whisky world.
posted by Callicvol at 10:50 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whisky, science. Science, whisky.

Aw hell, just gimme some halfway decent scotch and I'll just assume that the missing 'e' is intentional and not a case of either a poorly formed colloquialism or just a plain old poor upbringing.

(For clarification; if it's from Ireland then it's Whiskey, if it's from Scotland then it's called Scotch, if it's not from either of those places then it's Bourbon. But calling it "whisky" would seem to equate it to the generic "beer" that's often ordered on TV and movies, as opposed to a lager, ale, porter, etc.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:08 PM on March 30, 2013


Water DOES have no effect on whisky flavo(u)r. That's the leprechauns talking.

Whisky is not beer. It used to be beer, but not anymore.

What matters in whisky is peat PPM in the malt, the shape of the still (and the lyne arm), how it's distilled, how long the heads and tails are, what the "impurities" are and how much of them and at what temperature they were pulled, and so on. And then what wood it's kept in. and maybe where. But maybe not. I don't think any of this is controversial, really.

The amount of mystical bullshit attached to whisky production exceeds that of almost any other cultural product, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a kernel of genius in there somewhere. But you have to put up with the B.S., it's part of the show. Scotch whisky is genuinely good stuff if it's done right, in a pot still and the right barrels. It's even tolerably good if it's done wrong.

Diageo is not the problem; they own a number of outstanding distilleries that make great products. You are not OBLIGATED to drink up the marketing campaigns, you know. But if you have an opportunity to drink some Lagavulin or Caol Ila (or some Ron Zacapa, or some Bushmills, or some Tanqueray, or some George Dickel) you should.

Caol Ila is distilled on Islay but aged in an industrial park somewhere. It's still terrific whisky, even though 90% of it goes into blends.
posted by Fnarf at 11:11 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


the missing 'e' is intentional

Well, it is. It's "whisky" in Scotland and Canada (whose whisky tradition is Scottish); it's "whiskey" in Ireland and the US (whose whiskey tradition is mostly Irish). Japan swings both ways. India is (I think) entirely e-less (the Raj and all that -- but beware, much Indian whisky is made from molasses and is...interesting.
posted by Fnarf at 11:14 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be fair, if it's brewed in the US it's probably brewed from mostly corn, which makes it something other than either Whisky or Whiskey. The Tennessee version is filtered through Sugar Maple charcoal, which is different than what you'd get in a Kentucky version. Either of those can be called a Bourbon or an American Rye Whiskey. Except in the great state of Canadia, where they don't use any Rye at all, which means that it's not really either Whisky or Whiskey. Of course, these are the same people who put the word "premium" on things like Moose Head and Molson, so they're not to be trusted one iota.

And I'm still trying to grasp my head around the concept of a Scot ordering a whisky of either spelling. You know, unless there's been a terrible accident and they're fresh out of antiseptic, or they've invited the in-laws, who just happen to be tourists, over.

And the English? Well, let's just say their best brews are now all made by In-Bev, in somewhere other than England.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:33 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I'm still trying to grasp my head around the concept of a Scot ordering a whisky of either spelling. You know, unless there's been a terrible accident and they're fresh out of antiseptic, or they've invited the in-laws, who just happen to be tourists, over.

Whit?
posted by Callicvol at 11:35 PM on March 30, 2013


The way I remember the spelling: there's no 'e' in Scotland. Hence whisky.

Also, the term 'Scotch' is not really used in Scotland, as far as I know. I'm English, so a southern heathen, so what I've been told might be a lie.
posted by milkb0at at 12:49 AM on March 31, 2013


We toured four of the eight (at the time) distilleries on Islay a few years ago and Caol Ila was the only one that disallowed photography on the tour and we were all, really?
posted by rtha at 1:09 AM on March 31, 2013


Except in the great state of Canadia, where they don't use any Rye at all, which means that it's not really either Whisky or Whiskey.

Rye is the distinctive element in Canadian blends, as a rule.
posted by spitbull at 1:53 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to add to the fun - various English whiskies are coming online. I was at the St George's Distillery in Norfolk a few weeks back, and tried their first efforts. Not bad, but the novelty premium is hard to swallow. Recent liberalisation has led to quite a few new distilleries south of the border, so once the three-year maturation rule is fulfilled (at which point it's technically whisky and saleable, albeit infanticide. Cash flow's a bitch for new distilleries) expect a lot of novel gargles.
posted by Devonian at 2:05 AM on March 31, 2013


Also, the term 'Scotch' is not really used in Scotland, as far as I know.

Speaking from experience (i.e. living in Scotland, and spending several years tending bar in a highland pub [albeit I was in my early teens at the point, so memory is hazy]) then calling it 'Scotch' when ordering would just be kinda weird (and suggest you weren't from around here), but would be normal enough if discussing the industry.

Ordering a 'whisky' is fairly usual, and just means that you want some from the big bottle of blended stuff: most likely Grouse or Bell's. Single malts are more a special occasion thing (or drunk at home). Also commonish would be to ask for a half or a dram or a double; which is, of course, 2 halves. A half and half is a whisky and half pint of 70 (or 80 if you're posh) shilling.
posted by titus-g at 3:28 AM on March 31, 2013


@Blue_Villain, you appear to be an American, here in Scotland the drink is never called Scotch by the locals (or indeed anyone from Britain). Most usual in my experience is to ask for a dram or for a brand by name, e.g. "I'll have a Grouse" (a bad move by the way, Famous Grouse is vile).
posted by epo at 6:18 AM on March 31, 2013


if it's not from either of those places then it's Bourbon.

Either of those can be called a Bourbon or an American Rye Whiskey. Except in the great state of Canadia, where they don't use any Rye at all, which means that it's not really either Whisky or Whiskey.

No.
posted by kaseijin at 6:33 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a reason it's plausible that dissolved solids like say epsom salts in the original water wouldn't affect the finished product (but would affect a beer): the distilling process is going to leave those solids behind, just like if you put that tablespoon of epsom salts in a pot of water and boiled all the water away.

That said, it seems slightly plausible that these dissolved solids could affect what is extracted in the mashing step in a way other than lowering efficiency…
posted by jepler at 6:53 AM on March 31, 2013


Actually there's more mystical bullshit in audio engineering, particularly in speaker cables, phonograph levelling feet and CD harmonic balancing.

But I take your point.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:10 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except in the great state of Canadia, where they don't use any Rye at all, which means that it's not really either Whisky or Whiskey.

You've misread or misremembered something somewhere along the lines to get to that conclusion.

What I think you've misconstrued is that here in Canada, Canadian whisky is called "rye," despite the fact that it is almost never, in fact, rye whisky--i.e. whisky made from 100% rye. It does have some rye in it, though; we do call it that for a reason.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:29 AM on March 31, 2013


Whiskey with or without the "e" is just a common convention, not a hard and fast rule.

Irish is made with almost all malted barley.

Scotch smokes a quantity of the malt first.

Bourbon must be at least 60% corn, and aged in new, charred white American oak barrels for 4 years.

Jack Daniels is not a Bourbon, but a Tennessee whiskey. Tennessee whiskeys are not aged in charred barrels, but rather filtered through rafts of charred wood.

"Sour mash", honestly, is mostly marketing...at least in the sense that LOTS of whiskeys use a sour mash procedure without taking pains to mention it. "Triple distilled" and "heads, hearts, tails" fall into that bracket, too.

Canadian whisky generally contains a lot of rye, but is not a rye whiskey. It is typically a blended product, frequently cut with neutral spirits for a milder grain/wood taste.

American rye whiskey must be made with at least 60% unmalted rye. The remaining 30-40%, while often malted rye, can be any malted grain. It is not necessarily a 100% rye product.

Whiskey made from 100% malted rye, despite actually being closer to what was commonly produced in colonial America (which only makes sense, what with whiskey having come to the US from Ireland), has no special designation. Anchor Distilling is making one of these...it is creamy due to the high amout of malt, and is very much akin in flavor to Irish.
posted by kaseijin at 7:45 AM on March 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


@Jepler:

Initial mash isn't the only time water is introduced to whiskey. It is cut with water (generally down from about 60-65% ABV down to 40%) prior to bottling, as well.

That said, most of the flavor profile, IMO, comes from the grain selection, grain freshness, where the distiller made the cuts, and the wood.
posted by kaseijin at 8:04 AM on March 31, 2013


...the water used to bring the spirit down to bottle strength is definitely up there, though.
posted by kaseijin at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


That makes sense, kaseijin. If you're the sort of person who tastes the difference hard, soft, and distilled waters (and who isn't?) then yeah it seems absolutely credible that you'd taste the 1/3 water that whiskey is cut with.
posted by jepler at 8:17 AM on March 31, 2013


I can't remember where I read about a small, traditional distillery that doubled its production by building more pot stills on the premises, to precisely the same specifications and materials, only to find that the product, although made with the same ingredients and water, was so different tasting that they had to bottle it under a different name. If not apocryphal (and I'm under the distinct impression that it is not) then it puts the lie to most of the assertions at the top of the post. It might have been in The Whisky Trail... I'll go and try to find it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:26 AM on March 31, 2013


I seem to remember a similar story but instead of more stills of the same spec, everything else was the same but the stills were bigger.
posted by porpoise at 6:58 PM on March 31, 2013


Blue_Villain: if it's not from either of those places then it's Bourbon.

Liquor snob FAIL. Only majority-corn spirits can be called bourbon. Rye-based spirits, in contrast, are called "NOT IN MY DRINK YOU DON'T!".
kaseijin: Bourbon must be at least 60% corn,
You get the points, even if you're slightly incorrect. Bourbon must be at least 51% corn, not 60%.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:14 PM on March 31, 2013


@blue_villain Wat? Canadian whiskey DOES have rye, that's what it's noted for in fact. That's why it's frequently called rye whiskey. The confusing part however is that canadian rye has no specified quantity required to be called rye, while in the states rye whiskey needs to be 51% rye.

Also, Bourbon is whiskey, and is properly spelled with the 'e' spelling.
posted by sp160n at 9:23 AM on April 1, 2013


Actually there's more mystical bullshit in audio engineering, particularly in speaker cables, phonograph levelling feet and CD harmonic balancing.

But I take your point.



This has nothing to do with audio engineering. You're thinking of the audiophile crowd, who are indeed, very much enamored of a whole variety of exorbitantly overpriced magic woo woo bullshit in their never ending quixotic quest for sonic "authenticity," to hear recordings exactly as they sounded in the studio, or some such.

Which is of course, absolute nonsense. Real audio engineers know what a dog's breakfast any given recording session can be, the fact that often no two members of the band were present in the studio at any given point in time, the lead singer had to punch in thirty times to get that vocal line just right, the bass was recorded DI, then re-amped a month later in a different room, yadda yadda yadda...

Mostly, its an excuse to blow a lot of money on veblen goods and outdo everyone else at the local audiophile club or whatever.
posted by stenseng at 10:57 AM on April 1, 2013


How can you people drink so much and still be so freakin' fastidious?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:10 AM on April 1, 2013


How can you drink so much and not be so freakin' fastidious?
posted by unSane at 11:19 AM on April 1, 2013


Vanishing Spirits: The Dried Remains Of Single-Malt Scotch
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2013


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