"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


As my RWA chapter mates and writing friends know the one thing that drives me crazy in historical romances and even historical fiction is when the book is set in Scotland and the protagonist is a Scot but he drinks whiskey. No self respecting Scot would drink whiskey they drink WHISKY or Scotch Whisky. Editors may tell writers that these two words whisky and whiskey are interchangeable but that just isn’t so to those who are whisky connoisseurs. The fact is if is to be called Scotch it must be a whisky distilled and bottled in Scotland. The term

Why the difference?

Some suggest that in 19th century the Scottish whiskies were not as well refined as they didn’t use pot stills, so to differentiate themselves from a lesser quality whisky the Irish changed the spelling to whiskey for their whiskey. I have also heard the difference of the two spellings was a result of the anglicized version of the Gaelic words for whisky: usisce beatha (Irish) and uisge beatha (Scottish) resulting in whiskey and whisky. Those who use the term Whisky are Scotland, Wales and Japan as well as some whiskies in the US distilled by Scottish Americans. The term Whiskey is more often used in America and Ireland. Though many believe that Whisky originated in Scotland the process of distillation began in Babylonia in Mesopotamia when they distilled perfumes. It is believed the process may have been brought to Ireland and then to Scotland when the Scots came from Ireland. What makes whisky different from beer is the distillation. For whisky at least in Scotland comes in a number of ways including single Malt and blended, from a cask or from a bottled variety.

The process of distilling single malt whisky begins with the water: first used to germinate the grain barley into what is called the mash. Water is also used to dilute the alcohol and then again at bottling. Scotland distillers pride themselves on the quality of the water used especially in the Highlands, Islands and Speyside and the amount of peat in the water increases the smoky taste.

The next process is the malting, which is the blending of the barley, yeast and water, the only ingredients required to make a single malt whisky. The grain is soaked for 2-3 days where it germinates into starch to ferment to make sugars. The is halted after 3-5 days of the use of heat- hot air pumped which could include peat smoke to add to the flavor (phenois) the higher the phenol level the more peaty the flavor. This dries the mash.

Mashing, the next step, is taking the dried malt and milling it into a rough flour where hot water is added to extract the sugar (mash tun). Adding more water dissolves the sugars (maltose) and the enzymes (diatase) into a grist. The enzymes work on the sugars, which ferments the sugar, which creates a sugar liquid called wort. This is usually done three times.

Fermentation is the process of adding yeast to the grist, which feeds on the sugar producing both carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is done usually done over three days where the alcohol level rises to 5 to 7 %. This is known as the wash. This is the last process, which is used for making beer. To make whisky the product must now be distilled.

Distilling … the wash from the fermentation process is now put in copper stills (pot belly) and the wash is heated to boil off the alcohol. The alcohol vapor is collected in a condenser, which is submerged in cool water. The lover temperature causes the vapor to return to the liquid form rising alcohol lever to 20 to 40%. They repeat the distillation process a second time and sometimes a third to get an alcohol level of 70%. The body (taste/look) of the whisky comes from the size and shape of the still, so they must be uniform. This is called “new-make” spirit.

Maturation is the final stage to “new make spirit’. The whisky is placed in OAK casks to allow it to mature over the years. By law all Scottish whisky must mature at least three years and plus a day in Oak casks. Single malts age much longer. The whisky continues to change the longer it is in the wood. Some can age twenty years or more. For each year 1 to 2% evaporates from the cask, which is called the “angels share”. As to the casks the flavor is affected by what was in the cask before. Many Scottish whiskies uses casks from American whiskey makers, others like casks from Spain that held wine or Madeira and some use rum or cognac casks

Bottling—For the whisky to be a single malt whisky, a bottle may contain only one whisky distilled from malted barely or other single grain and come from a single distillery. For blended whiskies the bottle will include a number of single malt whiskies from a number of distilleries. Bottling doesn't have be done at the same distillery though a lot of single malts usually are. An age statement on a blended bottle is the youngest on the whisky blended.

Whisky connoisseurs believe whisky should be served at room temperature and it is OK to add water believing it enhances the taste. Though many Americans drink “Scotch” on the rocks (ice) is believed that making the drink cold is sacrilege and dilutes the taste. It is important to remember, room temperature in Scotland is (in my opinion) colder then room temperature in the US; we love our creature comforts. No matter if you like blended or single malt. For Scotland each of the following provide both single malt and blended whiskies each with a unique taste from the water and ingredients:

Campbeltown Distilleries

Islay Distilleries

Highland/Island Distilleries

Lowland Distilleries

Speyside Distilleries


Keena Kincaid said...

Very interesting post. I learned that it was Scotch (single malt) whisky (blended) and whiskey (Irish swill).

BTW, the second commercial, yummy and hilarious.

Anita Clenney said...

Oh my gosh! Those videos are very interesting!!!! I didn't know about the Whisky spelling because I don't drink, but I'm headed off to my MS to make sure I haven't misspelled it.

Jody said...

Irish whiskey like Tyrconnelll in whiskey in Ireland is a single malt but the Irish I believe may malt their whiskey differently than Scottish whisky. My only point is when you have a Scottish character and have them drinking Whisky is going to be Scottish and that has no 'e". Of course a Scotsman never drinks "Scotch" either they drink whisky.

Jody said...

YOu need to visit youtube and find more Lawsons whisky commericals. There are some that are a hoot and some kind of sexy.

As to getting it wrong in your Scottish romance, well if one slips thru you have a lot of company because even Nora Roberts spells it whiskey in her romances with contemporary Scottish characters and who is going to tell Nora she is wrong. Not me.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

A weird thing happened when I had a shot of whisky at a distillery in Pitlochery. I am basically a non-drinker because my nose turns red and I get silly just smelling a cork. But, I had three shots of whisky at the distillery and then walked a half mile back to the B&B like I hadn't had anything to drink. Cannot explain it, but Scotch doesn't seem to affect me like my husband expected - like having to carry me back to the B&B on his back. Any ideas on this? We brought home a large bottle of Drumgray and I couldn't drink enough of it. Could it be my Scottish genes????

Jody said...

All I can say is that don't let the Whisky industry know becauset they will want blood samples to find out why so they can clone it.

To be honest I get high on the fumes. I dont like the smell of it too strong. Even my dog starts to sneeze when my husband is drinking his nightly whisky. I like the whisky from the lowlands because they use more fruit essences and the peat is not as strong.

Saskia Walker said...

I've had "whisky" changed to "whiskey" by line editors and proofers, and it breaks my heart. As a reader, however, it doesn't make me groan quite as much as someone talking in a "Scotch accent"... ;-)

albina N muro said...

As my RWA chapter mates and writing friends know the one thing that drives me crazy in historical romances and even historical fiction is when the book is set in Scotland and the protagonist is a Scot but he drinks whiskey. buy wines online