Sipping Smartly

At a recent party I attended, the only spirit on offer was whisky. It didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed more people beginning to enjoy whisky in the Czech Republic. This doesn’t surprise me either. Whisky offers a lot to people who pay attention to the taste. As more people learn the pleasures of the drink, the drink might have to change to meet the demand. If not, prices may go up.

Why do so many people like whisky? In this article I’m only talking about Scotch and Irish whisky. America and Canada also produce whisky but these are often cold bourbon whiskies or just bourbons and have a different taste. Scotch and Irish whiskies are not the same, but they share some common characteristics. Most are made from malted barley. The drink can then be designated as either single malt or blended. Single malt means that it is from a single distillery and a single batch of barley, if in Scotland. Other countries may allow rye. Blended is made from different distilleries and batches and can include different grains. This means that single malts should have more individual tastes than blended.

Because of this, whisky connoisseurs prefer single malt because the tougher rules for making single malt mean a higher quality. The whisky’s flavour comes from how the barley is fermented and distilled. The malt for scotch whiskies is often dried over heated peat. Irish whiskies don’t often use peat. Another important influence is the barrel in which the whisky is aged and the length of time it is left to age.

So what does all this have to do with the changing quality or price of whisky? Making whisky takes a long time and needs specific ingredients and methods. For this reason, there is no easy way to increase supply, especially when you think about the aging process. How much 12 year old or 18 year old whisky there is now was decided 12 or 18 years ago. You can’t quickly make more.

If you ‘shop around’ you look at many different stores to find the best quality or price for something. ‘When I was planning my wedding, I shopped around to find the best company to prepare our dinner.’

More people around the world are enjoying whisky so there is more demand for an already limited supply. Because of this, the price of whisky is increasing. Forbes published an article recommending people invest in “fine and rare” whisky. However, people who want to drink whisky aren’t happy about the situation. Writing in The Guardian, John Burnside said the increased demand may mean decreased quality.

So what should you do if you want to drink good whisky? First, expect to pay more right now, but also shop around. And if you can, choose a single malt whisky.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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At a recent party, the only spirit available was whisky. It didn’t surprise me. I think more people are drinking whisky in the Czech Republic because it is a nice drink that people can learn to enjoy. But as more people want to drink it, the drink may need to change or whisky may cost more.

Why do so many people like whisky? In this article I’m only talking about Scotch and Irish whisky. Most Scotch and Irish are made from malted barley. Whisky can be called either single malt or blended. Single malt means that it is from one distillery and one batch of barley, if in Scotland. Other countries may allow rye. Blended is made from different distilleries and batches and can include different grains. This means single malts should have more specific tastes than blended.

Because of this, whisky connoisseurs prefer single malt. If a whisky is single or blended is one way to determine the quality. The tougher rules of single malt mean a higher quality. The whisky’s flavour comes from how the barley is fermented and distilled. Also important is the barrel in which the whisky is aged and the length of time it is left to age.

The title of this article is ‘Sipping Smartly.’ To ‘sip’ means to take small drinks of a liquid.

Making whisky takes a long time and needs specific ingredients and methods. There is no easy way to increase supply. How much 12 year old or 18 year old whisky there is now was decided 12 or 18 years ago. You can’t quickly make more.

If you ‘shop around’ you look at many different stores to find the best quality or price for something. ‘When I was planning my wedding, I shopped around to find the best company to prepare our dinner.’

More people around the world are enjoying whisky so there is more demand for an already limited supply. So what should you do if you want to drink good whisky? You may have to pay more, but shop around. And if you can, choose a single malt whisky.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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At a recent party I attended, the bar was lined with bottles of whisky with no other spirit on offer. It didn’t surprise me. In the almost ten years I’ve lived in the Czech Republic, I’ve noticed an increasing number of people getting turned on to whisky. This doesn’t surprise me either. Whisky offers a lot to the discerning palate. As more and more people come to realize the pleasures of the drink, the drink itself might have to change to meet the demand. Otherwise, the price for some of the top-end labels will likely go up.

If someone ‘turns you on to’ something, they introduce you to something new, and you like it. ‘My wife turned me on to classic movies from the 1950s and now I really love them.’

Before we get into the dry economics, let’s delve into what makes whisky so desirable in the first place. For the purpose of this article I’m just focusing on Scotch and Irish whisky. America and Canada also produce whisky but these are often cold bourbon whiskies or simply bourbons and have quite a different taste. Scotch and Irish whiskies are certainly not the same, but they share some common features. Most are made from malted barley. The drink can then be designated as either single malt or blended. Single malt means that it is from a single distillery and a single batch of barley, if in Scotland. Other countries may allow rye. Blended is made from different distilleries and batches and can include different grains. This means that single malts should have more distinctive tastes than blended because each one is more unique. Blended whiskies don’t exhibit this unique character.

For this reason whisky connoisseurs prefer single malt because they can enjoy the characteristic flavours of a particular producer. This point brings us to what determines the flavours. Single or blended act more as ways to determine the quality. The stricter rules of single malt ensure a higher quality. The whisky’s flavour comes from how the barley is fermented and distilled. The malt for scotch whiskies is often dried over heated peat. The peat then lends the malt a heavy earthy taste. Irish whiskies don’t often use peat. Another important influence is the barrel in which the whisky is aged and the length of time it is left to age. Oak barrels are required by Scottish law and are used elsewhere as a matter of tradition. The oils in the oak, which are called vanillins, give whisky its taste and colour. Also, if the barrel had been used to make cognac, rum or sherry all this can influence a particular whisky.

So what does all this have to do with the changing quality or price of whisky? As you can see, making whisky is a lengthy process which requires specific ingredients and methods. For this reason, there is no easy way to increase supply, especially when the aging process is taken into consideration. The amount of 12 year old or 18 year old whisky was determined 12 or 18 years ago. You can’t suddenly make more. Consequently, the basic rules of economics come into play.

With more and more people around the world developing a taste for whisky, it means greater demand for an already limited supply. According to the basic rules of economics, this situation should force the price of whisky up. This is happening. But whisky apparently has its own cycles.  One blogger, the Scotch Noob, claims that this happens in 20-year cycles as the drink comes into fashion and distilleries increase production while prices actually stay high. In other words, two quite opposite forces could be pushing up the price. One reason is relative scarcity in relation to the demand. The second is the very demand itself.

Whatever the cause for the high prices, Forbes ran an article recommending people invest in “fine and rare” whisky. The journalist claimed it could earn more than gold. While this is good news for people seeking to make money, the people who drink the stuff are not content with the situation. Writing in The Guardian, John Burnside saw the increased demand as perhaps leading to decreased quality. He points to this happening in the past. Another result of dwindling supplies of better quality whisky is the relabeling of blended malt as “pure malt” which some connoisseurs see as deceiving.

What does this mean for the ordinary consumer? Three things. First, expect to pay more at the moment, but also shop around. Economics works both ways. Producers might think they can charge more but only as much as people will let them. Secondly, be wary of any unfamiliar or new terms for whisky. Lastly, whenever possible go for a single malt whisky.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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