This is part 2 of 2 posts answering questions about the enigma known as Scotch Whisky. Read part one here.
11. Cask strength whisky; what does this mean? It simply means that the whisky was bottled at the cask’s (or group of casks’) natural strength. Most spirits are diluted with water at the time of bottling to meet a uniform standard, with 40% alcohol by volume being the most common. Cask strength spirits are not diluted and often not altered in any way.
12. How strong is whisky? Whisky must be bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume, which translates to 80 proof in the U.S. (Read about proof versus alcohol by volume) This is the standard strength found in most dry spirits (liqueurs are typically bottled at a lesser strength.)
13. Is older whisky better? Whisky distillers have an ascending scale of prices for their whisky offerings. The older the whisky, the higher the price. Logically, one would assume that an older whisky with a higher price tag is better than younger, cheaper whiskies from the same distillery. While this is sometimes true, it is far from a rule. It is a matter of personal taste and preference. There are many instances that I prefer a whisky in the middle of a distillery’s age range as opposed to the oldest. In a few cases, I prefer the youngest whisky. Keep an open mind and trust your palate. There certainly does come a point of diminishing returns where the whisky has been in the barrel to the extent that it has lost its original flavor profile, its vigor, and has become weighed down with the flavor of wood. (More about wood and whisky)
14. What is peat? Peat is an organic fuel cut from the turf. This was once a vital home heating and cooking fuel in Scotland and throughout the British Isles. Peat was also burned to dry malted barley. While a great and cheap fuel, peat has a definite “reek” when burned. As you can imagine this greatly influenced the malted barely and the resulting whisky.
15. Ice or no ice? I say no, but many say yes. The bottom line is that it’s your drink; you paid for it so have it as you will. However, you should be aware that ice does dull both the aromatics and the palate.
16. Water? I answer with an emphatic yes. In most cases water can actually make a whisky more vibrant on the palate and the aromatics more lively and pronounced as well.
17. Cocktails? Yes! Making cocktails with Scotch Whisky is a terrific way to enjoy the spirit. It doesn’t just have to be the most affordable blended varieties either and you can even make cocktails with single malts.
18. When should Scotch Whisky be consumed? While ordering a dram of malt with your cheese omelet may raise an eyeball or two, there is no bad time to enjoy Scotch Whisky. Once you venture into the world of whisky you will find that there is a greater range of flavors and textures that exist in Scotch Whisky than any other spirit category. Some whiskies are dry and zesty, making them perfect aperitifs, while others are rich, lush and decadent, working well with dessert. You will find a whisky for nearly every occasion.
19. What should I drink along side my whisky? Many people prefer to have nothing but water with their whisky, not wanting any other flavors to influence the complex and subtle flavors that whiskies offer. Some, myself included, enjoy a quality, all-malt ale to sip along side a whisky.
20. What is “chill-filtering” and is it important? Chill filtration is one of whisky’s hot controversial topics. Chill filtration is performed to ensure that whisky, or any spirit, will not cloud when chilled or mixed with water. However, artisan producers and blenders (as well as many whisky lovers) feel that the process that strips the spirit of many of its natural fatty acids taking with it subtle aromatics, flavors and texture.