The origins of whisky (usually called whiskey by the Irish and Americans) go way back into Irish and Scottish history. According to legend, it was the missionary and patron saint St Patrick himself who brought the knowledge of distillation from France. The aquavit-like "aqua vitae" thus travelled from the monasteries in the south of France to Ireland, where it was documented in 1276 that Robert Savage of Bushmills is said to have given his soldiers "uisce beatha", translated from Gaelic as "water of life", to boost their morale. However, it is not certain whether this was really whiskey. It was not until 1494, around 200 years later, that liquid gold was documented in Scotland for the first time. Since then, the Scots and Irish alike have considered themselves the inventors of whisky and the high-proof drink has been an integral part of their everyday lives ever since.

Made from grain, mixed into a blend

The grain (always barley, but also wheat, maize, rye or oats) is fermented with water and yeast in a similar way to beer and then distilled into a spirit, which is then stored in wooden barrels (usually made of oak) for at least three years. Until the middle of the 19th century, whisky was primarily intended to get you drunk, with enjoyment taking a back seat. The spirit was usually sold fresh without being allowed to mature first. In 1853, Andrew Usher, a whisky merchant from Edinburgh, came up with the ground-breaking idea of blending a smoky, intense malt from the Highlands with a more neutral, softer whisky from the Lowlands: the concept of blended whisky was born and was to dominate pure, unblended malt whisky from then on.

Ironically, an Irish invention was also crucial to the success of blended Scotch whisky. In 1823, Aeneas Coffey patented his "Coffey Still", a still that allowed for continuous and therefore cost-effective distillation. The distillation process no longer had to be interrupted after a distillation to clean the single boiler, as was the case with the pot still process. The whiskies produced using this innovative column still process were not only more efficient to produce in bulk, they also appealed to the taste of the masses. The Irish master distillers, on the other hand, stuck to their traditional production methods and were unable to adapt to customer demand, and their market share shrank. A trade embargo and the two world wars accelerated the decline and by the turn of the millennium there were only three Irish distilleries left. Today the number is rising again. Among the current two dozen companies is the producer of the legendary McConnell's Irish Whisky from Belfast in Northern Ireland. First distilled in 1776 and having disappeared from the market for 90 years, the 5-year-old blend is now celebrating its comeback. Waldemar Behn took over distribution for Germany in 2022.

From Scotland and Ireland to the whole world

Thanks to British immigrants, the USA today has a thriving distilling scene, from the centres in Kentucky and Tennessee to small craft distilleries such as Boulder Spirits, another distribution partner of Waldemar Behn GmbH. In addition to American single malt whiskey, the small family business based in Boulder (Colorado) also offers a classic straight bourbon whiskey, probably the best-known type of American whiskey, which is characterised, among other things, by being made from at least 51% corn and aged in charred white oak barrels. Bourbon barrels from America that have already been used are often used for storage in Scotland.

There is also a flourishing whisky industry in Japan today. The countryman Masataka Taketsuru, son of a sake brewer, moved to Scotland in 1918 to get to know and love the world of whisky. Since then, Japanese whisky brands have enjoyed increasing international significance and popularity, including the literally translated "divine" Shinsei whisky from the foot of Mount Fuji, which Waldemar Behn has also had in its sales portfolio since 2022.

There are also numerous brands with rather unusual regional origins for whisky, but which lend the spirits special flavours for this very reason. For example, the Celtic Whisky Distillery, located directly on the rugged Atlantic Ocean in the north of French Brittany, produces distinctive whiskies with salty and peaty flavours typical of the proximity to the coast. The Kornog and Gwalarn brands distilled there round off Waldemar Behn's whisky portfolio with their unique flavours. Incidentally, most of the German whisky distilleries are located in Bavaria and Baden-W├╝rttemberg.

Geographical origin, grain type, quality characteristics and flavour profile

On the one hand, whiskies can be categorised according to their geographical origin, such as Scotch, Irish or American whisky. On the other hand, whiskies are named after the type of grain from which they are made, such as grain (wheat, barley, oats or rye), rye (rye), bourbon (at least 51% corn), corn (at least 80% corn) and malt (exclusively malted barley). A single malt is therefore a pure barley whisky, a blend is a mixture of different whiskies and types of grain. Other decisive factors for the quality are the type and length of maturation (wood type of the cask, cask or barrel size), if applicable the exclusivity of a single cask bottling (single cask), the addition of sugar couleur E150 for a more intense colour, a special cold filtration and the quality of the water used. At the latest when bottling, the whisky is diluted to a drinking strength of usually 40 to 46 per cent by volume. When tasting, however, everyone makes their own individual judgement of the flavour based on the first nose, the taste, the aftertaste and the second nose. Common flavours include spicy oak, vanilla, nougat, maple syrup, fresh apple, orange, hot black pepper or the floral notes of a whole bouquet of flowers. The composition of a good whisky is like a subtle work of art.

Connoisseurs drink whisky neat or with a hint of water

And yet every whisky has its own signature drink, its own cocktail. With Scotch, it's the Rusty Nails, the Irish love their Irish Coffee and the Americans, with their sophisticated bar and cocktail culture in the golden age of the early 20th century, have produced a whole range of great classic cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan or Whisky Sour. Whether in a rustic Irish pub, at the bar in a sophisticated ambience or in the comfort of your own home, whether in a large group or alone, a whisky is always a treat for the senses.

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