Third Saturday of May: It’s World Whisky Day!5 min read
Originally written on May 2022 – updated 2023
Whisky is one of the iconic drinks of true lovers of alcohol. But honestly, who needs an excuse to drink it? And, If you need one, World Whisky Day is it!
The fact is that whisky is a historical classic that’s been distilled with care for over 500 years. The beverage of kings and peasants alike for generations, it is easily poured between friends and can be the catalyst to make some great memories.
One of the most common forms of whisky is Irish Whisky, and the origins of the word can be found in the Gaelic Language.
Uisce Beatha was the original name of whiskey in classical Gaelic, which ultimately became Uisce Beatha in Ireland and Uisge Beatha in Scotland.
Both literally mean “Water of Life” and tells us just how important and vital this particular distillation was to the Gaels.
It was later shortened to just Uisce or Uisge, and then anglicized to Whisky.
So now you know, when someone is concerned if you drink whisky, you can just tell them you’re drinking the water of life!
In any case, the ‘water of life’ has had a storied past. The first evidence of distillation, the essential process for creating whisky, dates back to Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. It wasn’t until 100 A.D. that Alexander of Aphrodisias created the first recorded instance of distillation — he distilled seawater to make it into pure drinking water! Distillation techniques for whisky wouldn’t come around until around 1100, at the earliest, when monks traveling into Scotland fermented grain mash and created the first ancestor of the beverage.
However, the first year in which whisky was officially mentioned as a distilled product was in 1405. It’s written in a family’s history that someone in their clan died after drinking too much at Christmas. Over the next hundred years, whisky distillation became widespread in Scotland. Later, when King Henry VII of England disbanded monasteries, many monks made their living by selling the whisky they distilled to the general public, and soon whisky was available to all.
From as early as the 1600s, Scottish immigrants to the new American colonies brought distillation practices with them, and whisky was available quite early in North America. Around the same time, the first whisky distillery in Ireland was officially licensed, in 1608.
Whisky made another notable appearance in the 1770s and 1780s, during the American Revolution, when it was so valuable that many distilleries actually used it as a currency.
To help fund Revolutionary War debt, the newly-formed American government imposed a whisky tax on the import and export of the product. This led to unrest between the government and the whisky farmers, eventually resulting in the Whisky Rebellion between 1791 and 1794. Though George Washington sent national forces to quell the Rebellion, the whisky tax remained a contentious issue until Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, when it was repealed.
So what, exactly, is whisky?
Basically, is what happens when you create take rich flavorful grains and ferment them into a mash, and then take it and distil the same mash down into a pure spirit.
Distillation takes place in a still, a device whose whole purpose is the purification of the alcohol from the fermented mash. One of the most important secrets of distillation is that it must take place in a copper (Or copper lined) still, because the copper removes the sulfur from the drink that would make this otherwise diving beverage decidedly unpleasant to drink.
Throughout the 19th century, there were many inventions and industrialization practices for whisky. For example, the ‘continuous still’ and the ‘Coffey still’ modernized the distillation process and allowed for much more cheap and efficient production.
Well…you may enjoy a delicious glass of whisky, but did you know the following…?
Let’s start with a very worrying fact, which is that whisky could have been banned!
If it was not because of a medical loophole in the Prohibition period, this drink would have been banned altogether. However, because there was a law that enabled doctors to prescribe whisky as medicine, it survived.
And did you know that there are some very expensive bottles of whisky around the world?
However, the most expensive is the Macallan ‘M’ whisky, a Lalique decanter of whisky that was auctioned in Hong Kong for £393,109! The luxury decanter features six liters of whisky, which was drawn from casks made of Spanish oak sherry, dating from the ‘40s until the ‘90s!
…and the oldest whisky is more than 150-years-old!
More precisely, the Guinness World Record for the World’s Oldest Whisky currently goes to a bottle of 400ml Glenavon Special Liqueur Whisky, and It was owned by a family from Ireland. However, it fetched an incredible £14,850 at auction when it was sold to Bonhams in London, and It is believed to have been packaged sometime between the years of 1851 and 1858.
Also the spelling of whisky is interesting.
In fact, you may have seen it written as whiskey. The version without the ‘e’ is used for Canadian and Scottish whisky.
However, for other types of the drink, some opt for the whiskey spelling.
Last (but not least), whisky actually starts life as a beer! This is because it is made with wort, which is a form of beer that gets distilled. The wort is created using all of the ingredients that yare enjoyed in a pint of delicious beer: malts, yeast, and water.
How to celebrate?
World Whisky Day reminds us that there is an incredibly broad range of whisky out there to try, and its unlikely that we’ve managed to enjoy all of it.
For example, it can be made from barley, corn, rye, and wheat, just to name a few, and those grains are often mixed in different proportions before fermenting and distilling.
The results are then aged in casks, with both the cask and the time inside changing the flavor.
And needless to say, you may need more than one day to sample every kind available to you!
World Whisky Day is a great opportunity for you to try something new, alone or with your friends.
How about celebrating with some whisky cocktails?
One fun thing you can do on World Whisky Day is to create your own version, or create one of the classic cocktails that are enjoyed all around the world today. Whisky Sour? Or maybe you prefer a classic and delicious Whisky Cream….
Images from web – Google Research