Of CORRADO LARONGA
Is it written Whiskey or Whiskey? Single Malt or Blended? Young, aged or peated? In this educational interview we will learn about whiskey (and whiskey too) thanks to one of its most cultured enthusiasts: Walter Gosso.
Walter, let's start from a classic "where, how, when" was whiskey born?
Gladly, because it is a much less obvious path than one might imagine. First of all, and here is the first surprise, it seems that it was not the Scots who "invented" it but the Irish, even a popular legend, to be taken with the benefit of the doubt, has it that as far back as 432 Saint Patrick carried out the first distillation in Ireland. Let's go in order. Saint Patrick may have done the distillation, but with what instruments? And does Italy have anything to do with it? The Arab invasion of Southern Italy, which took place between the 8th and 10th centuries, brought, among other things, an instrument known to all today: the still. The Arabs used it to distill essences, certainly not alcoholic beverages, but around 1100 the Salerno School of Medicine distilled Aqua Vitae for the first time, the basis of all distillations, used at the time mostly for medical purposes . It was then between 1250 and 1300 that the alchemist doctor Arnold of Villanova, finding himself in Montpellier in France to distill Aqua Vitae, began to use other ingredients during the process, especially herbs (so much so that the distillation of Gin is also somehow linked to the School of Salerno), thus laying an important foundation for future experiments
But when was whiskey as we know it today born?
In 1200, during some conflicts between Ireland and England, it is said that in the Bushmills area the English commanders made their soldiers drink a distillate known as Uisge-Beatha (the Gaelic translation of Aqua Vitae), to give them courage. However, we have to wait until 1360 to find the first manuscript in the Celtic language that teaches how to do the Uisge-Beatha: The Red Book of Ossory, written by Richard Ledred, Bishop of Ossory. Shortly thereafter there was news of a great diffusion of the distillate throughout Ireland, especially in the monasteries, accompanied by an ever-increasing fame that must have even reached the ears of the King of Scotland James IV, who in 1488 began to purchase large quantities of it to be able to study it at home. In 1494 we then find the first Scottish manuscript that talks about Aqua Vitae and from that period there are various documents of the purchase of malt and barley, evidently for distillation. The birth of whiskey as we know it today took place then.
Why, if he was not born in Scotland, are the Scots in the common imagination the best expression of him?
Because they made it a different product compared to its origins and because they managed to give it unique qualities, thanks also to the great variety of raw materials that the biodiversity of the area offers. They have refined the use of peat and aging, they gave intensity to the final product by distilling it twice compared to the Irish's three. In short, he wasn't born in Scotland but that's where he grew up. The Irish today are famous for having a whiskey that is easier to approach, while the Scottish ones are more complex, more alcoholic and above all they undergo different aging processes which enhance their organoleptic characteristics and give life to an infinite variety of nuances.
I'd say that at this point it's time to talk about variety. Can you clarify the differences between the types of whisky, perhaps starting from the eternal doubt: is it written with or without "e"?
Let's start with whiskey and whiskey then (laughs ed.): these are not two different types of whisky but only a linguistic difference of geographical origin: "whisky" is the Scottish wording, "whiskey" the Irish one.
Then we have the differences that concern the composition, so I would start from the category of Blended, that is, products that are the result of blends of different types of whisky, often excellent references and probably the best with which to begin approaching this distillate. In this category we find the Blended Malt, that is, it is a blend of malt whisky, Blended Grain, grain whiskey blend, Blended Scotch Whisky, that is, a blend of malt and wheat whisky, Pot Still Irish Whiskey, a blend of malted and unmalted barley and finally the Blended Irish Whiskey, a generic blend. The words “Scotch” and “Irish” naturally determine the origin: the former from Scotland, the latter from Ireland.
Then there are the Single Malt hey Single Grain, whiskeys that come from a single malt or grain cru and a single harvest.
However, the most important difference between the different whiskeys is aging. Irish whiskeys age much less than Scottish whiskeys and peating is also a much more widespread practice in Scotland than in Ireland. Finally, in Ireland there are also Irish Creams, i.e. Whiskey creams, milk cream liqueurs produced with at least 1% of whisky, while the rest is alcohol which also comes from other distillates of agricultural origin.
In your opinion, at this point, are Irish or Scottish whiskeys better?
In my opinion there is no technically better or worse product. Among Scotch there is the brand or region that you may like the most, as well as among Irish. It's just a matter of taste, the products are excellent anyway.
Not only Scotland and Ireland produce whisky: are we talking about the rest of the world?
Sure, and I'd start with them straight away United States saying that the great Irish influence due to immigration has meant that in the USA the word whiskey is written in the Irish style, therefore with an "e". It is also often found the wording Bourbon, in reference to Bourbon County in the State of Kentucky, where the first disciplinary was born. Initially it could only be produced in the area, while today it can obviously be produced throughout the United States. To regulate, Bourbon can only undergo one round of aging in the same barrels, which are then resold to other producers who can age their spirits in it. Let's move on to the different types, starting with Kentucky Bourbon, a whiskey produced exclusively in Kentucky that must be made from corn for a minimum of 51%. The same percentage, but of rye, characterizes the Rye Whiskey, typical of colder areas due to the ease in cultivating this cereal. We then find the Tennessee Whiskey, which follows the same specifications as Bourbon but must be exclusively distilled in Tennessee. It is also filtered through a layer of maple wood charcoal before being transferred to the barrels, and it is a very particular product, I would say for connoisseurs. Finally we have the Single Barrel, which literally means "single barrel", that is, whiskey that began and finished the aging process in a single barrel.
Japanese whiskeys have also recently established themselves on the market. What do you think?
Japanese Blendeds are gods excellent products. Warm, rounded and fragrant, they are ideal for starting to approach and appreciate whisky, it is not for nothing that they have become very popular in recent years and won the "The Best Whiskey in the World" award twice in a row.
Naturally it is not a product created today: at the beginning of the 1900s there were already the first licenses for the distillation of cereals in the Land of the Rising Sun. Masataka Taketsuru he is considered in Japan to be one of the founding fathers of whisky, whose secrets he learned in Scotland and applied upon his return, going so far as to found his company in 1934 and create his distillery, Nikka, in 1952 on the island of Hokkaidō.
Other countries worth mentioning?
Certainly Canada, whose whiskeys are mainly produced with rye and are very close to the American style. Worth mentioning Canadian Whisky, which is a blend of different malts and the Canadian Rye Whiskey, with 51% rye. Today, however, whiskey can be produced in every part of the world, the definitions are now practically only geographical. Whiskey is produced in Italy, Wales, Tasmania, France, Australia... everywhere! Obviously they will never be Scotch or Irish, for example, because each type of whiskey still, fortunately, has its own precise and somewhat restrictive specifications.
If you had to advise a neophyte in the approach to whisky, how would you start?
I should definitely start from the simplest product to try not to scare a palate that is not yet accustomed to it. I would therefore opt for a Blended, not because they are lower quality products but because they are less complex and easier to approach. If you like the experience, then you can gradually grow, perhaps with aged Blended before moving on to Single Malts of the different regions, still leaving aside the peated ones. Then when you start to have in your hands and appreciate a 12 year old glass you can talk about the aging of the whiskey and the difference between the barrels, because at that point the wood reigns supreme, the aromas change, the freshness of the whiskeys the younger you get lost and new, splendid notes emerge. Once you have become acquainted with the most important aging processes (15/18 years) you can move on to the peated ones, whose names are Peted, the generic peat, e Islay, the peat produced exclusively on the island of the same name made of peat. These are products for connoisseurs, who require a prepared palate.
Would you recommend a whiskey cocktail to MT Magazine readers?
I recommend three: Rob Roy, Manhattan, and Penicillin, a cocktail recently entered into the IBA catalogue. The first two are cousins: the Manhattan it is made with Bourbon or Rye Whiskey. I prefer it in equal parts red Vermouth and Bourbon and two dashes of Angostura, made in a mixing glass, mixed with a stirrer and finally put in a glass.
The Rob Roy instead it is prepared with Scotch: equal parts of Scotch and Vermouth, two dashes of Angostura or orange bitters, made in a mixing glass, mixed with a stirrer and finally placed in a glass.
A maraschino cherry and orange peel are perfect as a decoration for both.
The Penicillin instead it is a cocktail that is establishing itself in the new whiskey blending.
The ingredients are Blended Scotch Whisky, honey and ginger syrup, lemon juice. It is shaken, served on the rocks in a tumbler and then finished with a small part of peated whisky. As decoration, candied ginger.
Last curiosity: is whiskey only drunk neat?
Whiskey should always be drunk with water, dosing it to open up the range of aromas and eliminate the pungent part of the alcohol. And no, it's not heresy to serve it on the rocks, but the ice obviously must be pure and crystalline. And don't forget: a good dram of whiskey in the morning makes your day!