The word “whiskey” comes from the old Gaelic word, “uisge beatha,” which means water of life. It originated in Ireland, yet it was the Scots who made whisky what is it today: a delightful brown liquor with notes ranging from smoky to sweet to nutty to briny, etc…
There are many different categories of whiskies, but there is one category that reigns supreme, and is considered to be the top-tier product in the entire whisky industry, and that is the single malt Scotch whisky.
In order for a whisky to be legally labeled as a single malt Scotch whisky, it must pass these qualifications:
1. It must be bottled and produced in Scotland.
2. It must be made from 100% malted barley.
3. It must be distilled using pot stills in a single distillery.
4. It must be aged for at least three years in oak casks.
That last rule is interesting. Unlike laws regarding the production of bourbon, which prohibits the aging process in previously used barrels, the Scotch Whisky Association does not specify what barrels distilleries can or cannot use. This means distilleries use either American oak barrels where bourbon or rye whiskey was previously stored, sherry oak barrels, or European oak barrels. In other words, the ultimate finished product will be heavily influenced by whatever barrel a distillery chooses.
During my 5-day stay in Edinburgh, I tasted my way through 48 different drams. Each was delicious and unique in its own way, which is what I find so beautiful about whisky. I had the honor of trying whiskies such as Balvenie (12, 14, 17, and 21), Springbank (12, 15, 18 and 21), Glengoyne (21 and 25), and Dalmore (12, 15, and 18). The list goes on, but there was one particular whisky that truly stuck out to me.
I’ll be honest, and I was a little ashamed of myself for this. I had never heard of Glendronach. It wasn’t until I was sitting at a whisky bar by myself, browsing through all of the bottles on display and noting in my head which ones I had already tried. My searching came to a halt when I noticed the bottle. Was that even whisky? Could a whisky be that dark? Holy crap, yes. Bartender, could I please take a look at that bottle?
My bartender brought over the bottle of what turned out to be Glendronach 18. That’s right. An 18 year old whisky was that dark. It was because it was aged in sherry casks. I asked if I could sniff, and he offered me the bottle. I close my eyes as I inhaled incredible aromas of fruit, mixed with toffee, and honey. I won’t lie. My eyes were rolling to the back of my head. This was heaven.
“I’ll take a single of that,” I said confidently, as I placed the bottle back on the bar mat. The bartender shot me a grin, then proceeded to measure a pour into a thimble, poured that into my glass, and rested the thimble at an angle over it, so that I could get every last drop. He slid over my dram, and I took my first sip.
…..just, wow. All of the sherry in the entire world. All of the fruits. All of the maple syrups. I was in awe. I requested a dropper, and added three drops of water. It opened up the flavors even more. The sweetness came through even more. Ever drink or eat something that almost brought you to tears? This was it for me. I’ve been obsessed with Glendronach ever since.
Whisky is truly something special. It not only brings people together, but it also creates lasting memories. I can always remember the first time I tried any particular whisky. Now, if I ever see a bottle of Glendronach, I’ll smile and remember Scotland. What will it mean to you?
Written by Christina Kim, follow her whisky journey on Instagram @christina_kimmm