Scotch Whisky: Sharing with Angels


Proper spelling first: Scotch whisky has no e between the k and the y! But if there is an e wedged between the k and the y, the respective whiskey variety usually originates from Ireland, the United States or even from far-away Japan. Whereas wiskey or wisky clearly derive from nowhere, except perhaps from the brains of committed non-whisky-drinkers or those battling with the effects of over-indulgence. The popular spirit’s name, by the way, was simplified in the course of history from the Gaelic Uisge Beatha – meaning water of life – to Whiskybae and finally to Whisky.

The "Washback" at the Auchentoshan Distillery in Scotland.

A “Washback” at the Auchentoshan Distillery in Scotland.

Whisky has been distilled in Scotland for hundreds of years

How the knowledge got there, is still based on speculation. Some say, missionary monks brought it in from Ireland, others believe that knights returning from their crusades imported the technique from the Arabs, who were amongst the first ones versed in the mysterious art of distilling. The actual reason may well have been a terribly ordinary one, though: lousy weather. When barley (the main ingredient for malt whisky) got soaked during a rainy harvest season, it could be put to far better use than to just dumping it onto the steaming muck heap behind the farmhouse. Was distilling of a warm-upper and reliable mood-lifter not a way more reasonable choice?

Too much spirit?

The trial run turned out a long and bitter one – and early distillers lived dangerously for decades. Since fancy instruments were not available then to measure quality and alcohol content, whisky-makers are said to resolutely have set fire to their finished product and to then wholeheartedly mix the remaining liquid with perilous gunpowder. If this concoction exploded – which it frequently did – the whisky was rightly considered too strong. Many an illicit distiller accidentally outed their prohibited activities when their roofs blew off with a roar. A visit by the tax-man was sure to follow suit, if the culprit survived the mayhem. Today, there are set procedures less dramatic, thank God. For malt whisky, the regular sequence is the malting, the mashing, the fermentation, the distillation and the maturation.

The distillation process itself is usually accomplished within a week. From then on, patience is required: the maturation in wooden casks must last for at least three years. And, here we go: within this period, the so-called angel’s share silently evaporates drop by drop (adding to a loss of up to three percent). Depending on where the thirsty angels glide in from, it is the distillate’s either water or alcohol percentage they greedily feast on. Here in Scotland, due to it’s humid climate, it is the alcohol content that gradually decreases – rendering the whisky mellower and more agreeable with age, which again guarantees the spirit’s warm golden colour. Malt whiskies are given time to mature between fifteen and eighteen years in average. How whisky-making works in detail and how many types there actually are, is explained on

Smoky, peaty, chocolatety or vanillic? You find out!

One of the three Whisky Ambassadors stepping up high for the guests of the Scotch bar at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.

One of the three Whisky Ambassadors stepping up high for the guests of the Scotch bar in Edinburgh.

A vast number of distilleries are scattered over Scotland high and low. They are always worth a visit, especially, since many of them are also unusual venues for happy corporate events. A whisky tasting – or at least a whisky nosing – must not be missing in any programme. Those who lack the time to venture out into the scenery may choose to put their taste-buds to the test at one of the many bars. In Edinburgh, for instance, the bar at the Balmoral by the commodious name of Scotch – held in stylish brushed brass and black granite – offers 400 different whiskies from traditional regions like Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, the Islands and the High- and Lowlands in a variety of blends, malts and vintages dating back to 1940. This exclusive collection is overseen by highly trained Whisky Ambassadors wearing contemporary highland attire for authenticity. Remains to hope that not too many angels get to hear about this venue. Although: with angels, one never knows!

Photo source: ©VisitScotland/Header, ©Balmoral Hotel (Bar), ©Christina Feyerke (Washback).