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Raise your glasses to World Whisky Day 2024! Every year, the third Saturday in May marks the celebration of this popular liquor all over the world. In fact, if you mention alcohol in front of hardcore drink lovers, the first and only thing that will come to their minds would be whisky. In movies, drinking whisky is considered a sign of stature – you might see rich protagonists living in fancy houses with fully stocked whisky bars or antagonists celebrating their success with a glass of whisky. The whole concept of whisky sounds so cool, right? But have you ever wondered how the culture of whisky came into India? How is it made? Or which spelling is cooler – whisky or whiskey? To answer these questions and much more, we have prepared an elaborate guide on whisky. To truly become a whisky lover, you need to know the basics and should not be afraid to ask the simplest of questions. So, get your spirits up and read on!

Also Read: Sip In Style: 15 Top Whisky Brands That Deserve A Place In Your Collection

From imported to locally produced, whisky has come a long way in India.

From imported to locally produced, whisky has come a long way in India.
Photo Credit: iStock

Love Your Indian Whisky? Here’s A Brief History Of Whiskey In India

Legend has it that whisky has been part of India’s history since the British colonisation in the 19th century. Scotch was a favourite among British soldiers, who imported it in large quantities. The British also established distilleries in India. During the late 1820s, Edward Abraham Dyer relocated to India and established the Kasauli Brewery and Solan distillery in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan district. He imported distilling equipment from Scotland and recognized the opportunity to cater to the local demand by producing alcohol domestically.

By 1835, Kausali was getting overcrowded leading to a spring water shortage for beer production. So Dyer shifted his brewery operations to Solan and the Kasauli brewery underwent a complete transformation for whisky production. This gave birth to India’s first single malt whisky produced in the Himalayas – Solan No.1. In fact, the distillery still follows the production techniques established by Dyer. 

“Whisky’s introduction in India brought about a shift from traditional indigenous spirits to Western-style alcoholic beverages, reflecting broader societal changes due to globalization and exposure to international trends,” says Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer, Diageo India.

Soon, Whisky transitioned from being an imported spirit to being locally produced in India. According to the official website of the spirit brand Flaviar, the first whisky producers in India were Amrut, who established themselves in 1982, although they didn’t start producing whisky until later. Another significant whisky producer is Paul John, who has been in operation since 1996.

“Today, India stands as a powerhouse in the global whisky scene, boasting a robust market and an exciting landscape of innovation, particularly within our own homegrown single malt category,” continued Damodaran. “It’s incredible to witness the transformation – just a decade ago, we could count the players on one hand, but now we have over three dozen expressions from dozen-plus distilleries.”

Whisky vs. Whiskey: Which One Is Correct?

Both spellings are correct, but this depends on where the spirit has been manufactured. Whisky can also be spelled with an ‘e.’ ‘Whiskey’ is the Irish spelling of the spirit and is used extensively in Ireland and the US. “Whisky,” on the other hand, is the Scotch spelling and is used in Scotland, Canada and Japan. Whichever spelling you choose, the origin of the spelling goes back to both Scotland and Ireland. In Gaelic, Uisge beatha or usquebaugh translates to “water of life.” This was translated from the Latin phrase aqua vitae, which is used to describe spirits.

In India, we do not spell whisky with “e.” Confused? Check out the labels of all the popular brands – from Solan No.1 to Indri-Trini Single Malt – and you’ll know!

Malting converts starches into sugar.

Malting converts starches into sugar.
Photo Credit: iStock

How Exactly Is Whisky Made?

“A good whisky should be well-balanced – where there is a harmony of flavours from the casks and distinct aromas. High-quality grains, pure water, and carefully selected casks for ageing – all contribute to the final product’s excellence,” says Leti Blagoeva, Co-Founder, D’YAVOL.

Whisky is mainly made of four ingredients: barley, wheat, corn, and rye. Just like any other type of whisky, Indian whisky also undergoes a similar production process to global whiskies. For the unversed, there are several kinds of whiskies – from single malts to blended. The flavour of these whiskies depends on the geographical location and the kind of approach used to produce it. But all in all, the production process remains the same except for a few nuances.

1. Malting

First, the grain is soaked in water to stimulate sprout and germination. This process converts starches into sugar. Once germination occurs, the malted barley is dried to halt the process. Pretty cool, right?

2. Milling

After the grain and sugars dry, it’s time to grind it down. The grain is fed into a mill and converted into smaller pieces. This results in a coarse powder, called grist, which is a mixture of grits, husks, and flour.

3. Mashing

The grist is added to a mash tun – a vessel designed to extract some amount of sugary liquid called wort. This extract is then transferred into the washback for fermentation.

4. Fermentation

Once the wort is transferred, yeast is added to the wort. This will trigger fermentation and convert sugar into alcohol.

5. Distillation

The fermented liquid is heated in stills till it separates the alcohol from water and other components. This process is repeated to increase the alcohol concentration and refinement.

6. Maturation

The most important stage – once the alcohol is distilled, it is matured in wooden casks, typically made of oak, for maturing. The kind of wooden barrel used determines the complex flavours and characteristics of the whisky.

Irish whisky has a smooth taste.

Irish whisky has a smooth taste.
Photo Credit: iStock

This brings us to the obvious and burning question about whisky’s ageing – Can it actually improve with age, even after it’s been bottled? You may be surprised, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t. “Once it is out of the cask and into the bottle, whisky does not age. Whisky needs time in wooden casks for it to age well. Thus, once it’s in the bottle, all the spirit is ready to do is be enjoyed by consumers,” says Damodaran. But there is one thing that may make your whisky valuable with time – its bottle! “Collectors may find older bottles valuable, but this is due to rarity, not enhanced quality,” adds Blagoeva.

How Many Types Of Whiskies Are There?

“An important thing for me [when it comes to a good whisky] is its authenticity. Whisky should stay true to its origin – whether it’s a single malt from Scotland or a bourbon from Kentucky, it should reflect its heritage and the traditional methods of its region,” says Blagoeva. All in all, there are nine types of whiskies you should know of:

1. Irish Whisky

One of the most popular whisky types, Irish whisky has a smoother flavour compared to its contemporaries. It is produced with a mash of malt, that can only be distilled using water and caramel colouring, and distilled in wooden casks for at least three years. This results in a whisky that is easy to sip neat or on the rocks. Since it is super smooth, you can also make cocktails out of it.

2. Scotch Whisky

In the normal lingo, scotch whisky is just called scotch (take notes!) since it is manufactured in Scotland with either grain or malt. But unlike other manufacturing countries, the Scottish people take their whisky-making pretty seriously and have rules that distillers must follow. For example: the spirit must age in an oak barrel for at least three years. Scotch whisky is often sipped neat and makes for an excellent nightcap drink.

3. Japanese Whisky

Although arriving slightly later than its Scotch and Irish contemporaries, Japanese whisky has made a name for itself due to its exceptional quality. Just like Scotch, Japanese whisky also undergoes a stringent manufacturing process. It is enjoyed in mixed beverages or with a hint of soda.

4. Canadian Whisky

Lighter and smoother than the other types of whiskies, Canadian whisky is also barrel-aged for at least three years like Scotch. Canadian whisky contains a high percentage of corn but is also made of rye, wheat, or barley.

5. Bourbon Whisky

No, not the bourbon biscuits. Bourbon whisky is an American-style whisky that is made from corn. In fact, to be called bourbon whisky, the spirit needs to be made from at least 51 percent corn. It is then aged in an oak barrel. Not many people know this, but bourbon whisky has no minimum ageing period.

Bourbon whisky is aged in an oak barrel.

Bourbon whisky is aged in an oak barrel.
Photo Credit: iStock

6. Tennessee Whisky

This type of whisky is similar to Bourbon but can only be produced in Tennessee state of the United States. Another difference between Bourbon and Tennessee whisky is that the latter must go through a charcoal filtering process, which reduces the whisky’s character. This is why Bourbon has a bolder flavour as compared to this kind.

7. Rye Whisky

Also American-made with at least 51 percent rye, Rye whisky follows a similar distillation process to bourbon. Flavour-wise, it is spicier than Bourbon, which is considered sweeter and smoother.

8. Blended Whisky

As the name suggests, blended whisky is a mixture of different kinds of whiskies in terms of colours, flavours, and grains. These types of whiskies are perfect for making cocktails as they bring out different kinds of flavours into the drink.

9. Single Malt Whisky

Single malt whisky is made from a single batch of malted barley at a single distillery. This kind of whisky is known for its rich and complex flavours and undergoes a minimum ageing period of three years in oak barrels which gives it its depth and character.

Indian whisky isnt sold as "whisky" in Europe.

Indian whisky isn’t sold as “whisky” in Europe.
Photo Credit: iStock

Indian Whisky Cannot Be Sold In Europe. Do You Know Why?

Unlike other whiskies, Indian whisky does not fall under the category of “whisky.” Most of the whisky produced in India is made by blending spirit distilled from fermented molasses (sugar cane spirit) along with either grain whisky (wheat, rye, barley, or corn) or Foreign Made Liquor (FML) like pre-blended Scotch whisky.

This is the reason why Indian-manufactured whiskies can bear more resemblance to rum than blended scotch. And this is why it cannot be sold in Europe as “whisky.”

First Time Whisky Drinker? Here’s What Experts Advice You To Keep In Mind

Since this article is all about the basics, we are here to tell you what NOT to do while trying whisky for the first time. Forget what the movies have taught you for so long because a spokesperson for Jimmy’s Cocktails said “people use it with water and chug it fast,” which is wrong. “Whisky, especially premium Blends & Single Malts are meant to be savoured slowly,” they said. Same advice has been imparted by Damodaran. 

But Blagoeva, points out another important mistake to avoid while drinking whisky – lumping all types of whiskies together without understanding the differences between them! “Single malts are quite different from blended malts. Similarly, Scotch differs from rye or bourbon. It’s essential to understand the types of whiskies to truly appreciate each one. For example, blended malts, which combine multiple single malts, offer a much more complex flavour profile – that cannot be compared to a single malt.”

Also Read: Pickle Juice Shot: The Brilliant Pairing of Whisky and Pickles

Do you think you know whisky a little better now? Let us know in the comments below and Happy World Whisky Day 2024!