The Story of Whiskey
Drive by the warehouses of Canadian distiller Seagrams and you can't help but savor the smoky, mellow aroma of aging Canadian whiskey. Over New Years relax from the mellee of Christmas and Boxing day, buying and selling to savor the flavor while listening to the story of whiskey.
It all starts off with the Egyptians thousands of years BC with an apprentice baker who left his bread dough to proof too long. The sour bread had intoxicating effects and soon the Egyptian slaves were relaxing with daily brews while the Royalty learned to drink the brew through straws made of gold for a more heady experience. Meanwhile around the same time the Babylonians were experimented with concentrating the aromas and flavors from flowers with the first stills.
A still is basically a tea kettle with a long glass pipe to condense the steam into a collecting jar. The alcohol in a mix of water and alcohol turns to vapor at a lower temperature than water. So by carefully monitoring the temperature of the pot the Babylonians were able to draw off the alcohol and flavors in their favorite flora. Eureka!
A couple of thousand years later, in the Alexandria lab of "Maria the Jewess", the techniques of distillation were married with wine making. Maria was one of the first alchemists - the alchemists were interested in discovering the "spirit" of all things. See the clever play on words. Spirit and spirits. The Latin world called the concentrate aqua vitae, water of life. Maria only used grapes for her still. The distilled spirit of wine is brandy. And distilled wine from the Cognac grape region of France, cognac. The next chapter of the story moves to the monasteries of Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages where the islanders had to deal with a nasty problem - no grapes.
Since the islands had no grapes, barley beer we used as the raw stock. Raw is the right word because the taste of the distilled beer was a throat-burning experience. How to mellow that rough edge. Aging in barrels worked for wine, so why not whiskey? The monks started keeping the whiskey in oak barrels. Finally settling on barrels made from charred white European oak.
The longer whiskey ages the more it's flavor develops. But there is a problem. a proverbial fly in the ointment, the whiskey also evaporates through pores in the oak staves. This part that evaporates is known as the angel's share. So the monks needed capital to finance their living expenses while their whiskey aged. Eureka again. Capitalism.
Jump on board ship while we travel to Hebrides islands of Scotland, from the home of my ancestors. You'll discover a land of islands divided in two. The Northern Protestant Islands where it even the roosters were locked up on Sundays in case they fooled around on the Lord's day and the more liberal Catholic southern islands.
The Southern Islands are completely barren - the trees were cut down long ago by a long-forgotten breed of Scottish Easter Islanders. The practical Scots with no trees for barrels had to improvise. What to use? Peat. The islanders use peat to warm their houses and it give off a smokey cloud as it smolders. It turned out to give the whiskey a wonderful peaty, smokey flavor.
There we have it. Canadian Club whiskey made from the best Canadian grains, aged in oak barrels with imported Scottish peat.
More by this Author
The syrup versus water dilemma defeated even Sir Isaac Newton. He reasoned that the syrup being more sticky or viscous than water would slow the swimmer down. That's quite a natural line of reasoning. Picture how much...