Twenty interesting and unusual things to know about whisky.

1. You almost did not get to enjoy that delicious glass of whisky – whenever you last had one – as whisky could have been banned if not for a medical loophole in the Prohibition period (that’s 1920-1933). Thanks to a law that enabled doctors to prescribe whisky as medicine, it survived. Let’s drink to that!

2. Bet you don’t know that whisky starts life as a beer! This is because it is made with wort, which is a form of beer that gets distilled. In fact, the wort is created using all of the ingredients that you enjoy in a pint of delightful beer, i.e. malts, yeast, and water.

3. This is something you really can’t claim that you know – who invented whisky. No one knows who was the first one to find out how to make this beloved drink.

An illustration from the 19th century of monks feasting.

The origin of whisky began over 1000 year ago when distillation made the migration from mainland Europe into Scotland and Ireland via traveling monks. The Scottish and Irish monasteries, lacking the vineyards and grapes of the continent, turned to fermenting grain mash, resulting in the first distillations of modern whisky.

Hence, it is believed that whisky was originally crafted by monks, but it all changed when King Henry VIII dissolved all of their liquor-ridden monasteries – a sobering experience for the poor monks! This happened in the 16th century.

4. If you have noticed, the trees around any distillery are black. This is whisky fungus caused by the spirit fumes from the distillery. Thankfully, it has no negative effect on the tree itself, just the colour.

5. The shape of the still tells you something about the about the basic character of the whisky. Even if there are many factors that contribute to the flavour, taller and slimmer pot stills produce smooth and mild whiskies while shorter pot stills make fuller and stronger whiskies.

6. Standing at 5.14 metres tall, Glenmorangie’s stills are the tallest in Scotland.

7. The lantern-shaped stills at The Glenlivet Distillery are also renowned the world over.

8. Before a whisky matures in its cask, it’s colourless.

9. The colour of the whisky comes from oak casks (also around 60% of its flavour), and from a small amount of caramel colouring.

10. The Angel’s Share means wasted whisky. Each year, during maturation, around 2% of the whisky is lost due to natural evaporation. This lost whisky is called the Angel’s Share.

11. Talk about a rare skill set – there are only 12 Master Blenders of whisky in the entire world! These are the people that choose which single malts and which grain whiskies get combined to form a particular blend, which can be composed of 20 or more whiskies. One of them recently had his nose—the Master Blender’s money maker—insured for $2 million!

12. The first ever Scotch whisky distillery opened by a woman was as recent as only three years ago! There have been women running distilleries before (Bessie at Laphroaig, Helen Cumming at Cardhu) but Heather Nelson was the first to take the lead alone. Her distillery Toulvaddie opened in 2017, but the first barrels won’t be ready for sale for a decade.

13. You can earn an academic degree in distilling.

14. The oldest whisky is more than 150 years old and the honour goes to a bottle of 400ml Glenavon Special Liqueur Whisky. It belonged to a family from Ireland and fetched an incredible £14,850 at auction when it was sold to Bonhams in London. It is said to have been packaged sometime between the years of 1851 and 1858.

15. One of the oldest bottles of Scotch whisky, the Old Vatted Glenlivet 1862, was opened in 2017. Drops of the rare whisky were captured inside 50 Swiss watches, the most expensive of which cost more than £35,000.

16. The world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky is known as ‘the Perfect Collection’ with a staggering 3,384 bottles.

17. The record for the largest bottle of whisky goes to the distillers of Famous Grouse, who created 1.7-metre bottle containing 228 litres of whisky.

18. The world’s largest bottle of single malt whisky is a 105.3-litre bottle of 14-year-old Tomintoul. It would serve almost 5,250 drams. It was auctioned off in December last year for £15,000.

19. The record for the smallest bottle goes to White Horse, who produced a bottle containing just 1.3 millilitres of whisky.

20. The strongest whisky in the world is the Bruichladdich X4 Quadrupled with an alcohol strength of 92% ABV. It is a Scotch whisky distilled on the Island of Islay, and it is categorized as a ‘cask strength’ whisky meaning it is not diluted to decrease its alcohol strength.

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