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Drinking Whisky for Beginners

Drinking Whisky for Beginners
Credit: The Famous Grouse

For which whisky do you choose? Scotch or Irish? What exactly is the difference between blend and malt? And do you write whisk(e)y with or without e? An introduction to the wonderful world of whisky.

No big dinner with the whole family, Christmas drinks with the whole company or New Year’s Eve party in the pub this year. But thinking about 2020 and especially toasting to 2021 can also very well at home with a few friends. Of course with a good glass of whisky! Not so familiar with the wonderful world of whisky? Don’t worry, in the coming weeks we will give a mini-course ‘Drinking Whisky for Beginners’ featuring The Famous Grouse.

Part II – How to Choose the Right Whisky for the Holidays
Part III – 5 Tips For Your Own Whisky Tasting Session

The Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse is a whisky brand that has been around for some time: it has been produced by Matthew Glaog & Son since 1800. For the last 30 years it has also been the most drunk whisky in Scotland. And if they have any knowledge of whisky…

The Famous Grouse Finest
Credit: The Famous Grouse

Whisky or Whiskey?

Then Scotland it is! But looking at the facts, it seems that the drink officially comes from Ireland. Because the first thing that was found in writing about whisky is that Father John Cor took it from Ireland to Scotland in 1494. Since then, there has always been conflict between these two countries about who makes the ‘real’ and best whisky. This battle even led to the book ‘The truth about whiskey’ made by the Irish in 1776. As a kind of hallmark they added an extra e to the word whisk(e)y at that time. In Ireland this is still the spelling they use today”. The e stands for Eire (Ireland). The US has adopted the Irish spelling, the rest of the world writes whisky without an e.

The USA has adopted the Irish spelling for whiskey, the rest of the world writes whisky

Grain, yeast and water

Okay, the mystery about the spelling has been solved. But how is whisky actually made? And what determines the taste? Whisky always consists of the three basic ingredients grain, yeast and water. Almost the same ingredients as beer. The big difference is only that these ingredients are boiled to make beer, and when making whisky they are distilled.

Boilers and barrels determine the taste

This distillation is an important process, because the shape of the cauldron in which this takes place partly determines the taste of the final whisky. Whisky that is distilled in long, narrow cauldrons (columns), for example, gets a lighter taste than whisky that is distilled in flatter and wider cauldrons. After distillation, the whisky is stored in oak barrels. These casks have often been used for maturing sherry or wine, and this also affects the taste of the whisky. No matter how long the whisky is matured. Did you know that in Scotland it is laid down by law that whisky must have been aged in oak for at least three years in order to be called whisky?

Four different types

In concrete terms, this means that there are four different types of whisky (excluding bourbon): grain whisky, single malt whisky, blended whisky and blended malt whisky. Grain whiskey can consist of different types of grain and is distilled in narrow, high (column) boilers. By using these column boilers can be produced quickly and therefore inexpensively. Grain whisky is used as a base for many blends.

Single malt

Single malt whisky is distilled in a single distillery in copper pot stills, large and wider boilers. Single malt is made from malted grain (barley) and is aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. By using previously used barrels or smoked malt, a specific (smoky) taste can be given to it.


Blended whisky is a combination of grain and single malt whiskies, blended by a blender or malt master until it has the desired taste and smell. A blend can consist of up to 50 different whiskies. The higher the percentage of single malts, the higher the price and the more pronounced the taste. Grain whiskey neutralizes. The Famous Grouse Finest is an example of such a blend and the most popular whisky in Scotland. Because it is a blend of the world’s most respected single malt Scotch whiskies and sweet grain whiskies it gets the characteristic soft taste for which The Famous Grouse is known.

Blended malt

Finally, a blended malt is a mix of different single malts (i.e. without grain), this is much less common than the other types. The Naked Grouse is an example of such a blended malt with an exceptionally soft taste and a full, rich and fruity character.

Next week…
Okay, the foundation has been laid. Next week we’ll really get to work: we’ll help you on your way to choosing the right whisky and drinking it. Slàinte! (Cheers in Scottish)