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A Journey through Malt Whisky in 526 words

Malt Whisky is created when partially fermented malt is dried then mixed with water before being heated to cause a chemical reaction, which allows for the extraction of sugars. These sugars can then be fermented by the addition of yeast to produce alcohol. The resulting liquid, which is basically beer, is then distilled; heated to boil off the water and release alcoholic vapour, then condensed back into liquid. This happens three times and the outcome is far boozier than the pre-distilled liquid. Hooray, we have whisky - almost. Next comes the fun bit. 

This liquid can then be altered by barrel ageing and/or the addition of water. It can also be blended with other malts but then it is no longer a 'single malt.' However, being a single malt does not give a whisky an immediate right to deliciousness, although it may be argued that it will have a more precise identity than a blend of different malts. As the wine lover might well appreciate the quality of a multi-regional, blended Australian Shiraz but find their true love in a particular, micro-plot of Pinot Noir on a slope in Burgundy. Great single malt whisky can be like great terroir-driven wine in that it speaks of where it comes from. In fact, I would suggest, that single malt whisky is the ultimate terroirists drink. After all, you could spend most of your life attempting to convince someone of the subtle differences between two Chablis Premier Crus, but stick a dram of Islay's latest star, Port Askaig, in front of their nose and they'll understand the concept of terroir quicker than you can say Mont de Milieu. Peat and wood-smoke with the salty tang of the North Atlantic tearing into your nostrils telling you exactly where you are.

For a very different whisky experience it is well worth trying From the Barrel, a blended malt whisky from Japanese distillery Nikka which shows what complexity and depth can be achieved through a blending of malts. Rich, spicy and powerful. It nearly overwhelms with its personality and rich texture. Spice and oak with citrus fruit cooked in brown sugar.

Or, what about hopping across the Pacific to America to try a Rye whisky? This means Rye has been added to the mashing process, it can produce a distinctively spicy malt, drier than Bourbon, for example. Try some of the small batch whiskies produced by the Michters distillery who can trace their legacy back to the founding of America's first ever whisky company.    

In fact, there are so many whiskies in the world, from Belgium to Taiwan, it often feels criminal, as with wine, to drink the same one more than once. But, we all have our old favourites and consequently I find myself sitting here with a glass of Ardbeg 10 year old close at hand. An American master Sommelier once confided in me of this particular whisky that it reminded her of olive oil infused with chimney smoke and melted chocolate. "I know" I beamed, totally oblivious to the fact that her comments were meant as criticism. Luckily, entering into the world of malt whisky offers something for everyone. 

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