What Is So Special About Whiskey?
You may not drink it, and you may not like it, but you can’t deny that whiskey (or whisky. See below) is one the most popular, if not the most popular kind of alcohol there is. With roots in Scotland and Ireland, this fabulous beverage has been transplanted to wide-ranging locations such as the American Midwest and Japan.
While not all whiskies are equal, some amazing whiskey facts are shared by this wide range of distillations. Many whiskey reviews throw around words like “peat” and “smokiness.” Or they assume that you are already a convert to the world of whiskey, and they don’t really explain why it’s such a popular alcohol, and how long and interesting of a history it has.
Want to Buy Whiskey Online?
Whiskey, Whisky, and Scotch. It can be confusing to know which term to use! Let’s clear this one up before we go much further. When you’re looking to buy whiskey online, you’ll see these terms used almost interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, we’ll primarily be using the term “whiskey.” The difference between the spellings of the two words is one of American versus British English, nothing more. The term “scotch,” is a very specific type of whiskey only produced, and legally recognized, in Scotland.
A Long and Winding Road
No, we’re not talking about the stagger home from your local bar after a drink or five, nor the beautiful Beatles song. Rather, our love of whiskey has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve been drinking it for a remarkably long time. As with so many of our cultural touchstones, the origins of whiskey and whiskey-making disappear into the depths of time. But records indicate that there is an almost 600-year history of distilling spirits in Scotland and Ireland. King James IV of Scotland, who reigned between 1488 and 1513, was apparently a huge fan of Scotch whisky.
Though technically not counted among whiskey facts, very, very early distillation processes may have been practiced by ancient peoples as far back as 4000 years ago. Early records from the 1st century AD show knowledge of distillation in ancient Greece, yet the distillation of alcohol doesn’t become prominent until the 13th century in Italy.
Throughout that history, much of the distillation process was to create aqua vitae or the water of life. These distillations were primarily used as medicines but soon gained significant ground as a recreational spirit. The Old Irish and Scots Gaelic translations of aqua vitae are uisce beatha and uisge beatha, respectively. It is thought that the name whiskey comes from a mispronunciation of these terms. Regardless, whiskey has been considered a medicine and a balm from its very earliest appearances. It’s no wonder we’re so fond of it.
As whiskey became popular around the globe, it drew innovative distillers and marketers into its orbit. A widening marketplace invites competition and innovation, and in the late 1800s Scottish powerhouse Johnnie Walker introduced some very clever ideas.
The first was the decision to make square bottles for the product. At the time of this decision, worldwide shipping was done, literally, with ships. Oceans being the unpredictable areas they are, a lot of bottles that were exported overseas ended up broken. To minimize this damage, the bottlers at Johnnie Walker created the whiskey fact square bottle so that there was less space in each shipping crate, and therefore less chance of bottles moving and breaking. The square bottle was subsequently picked up by other producers, notably the distinctive Jack Daniels bottle.
Johnnie Walker’s other innovation was the positioning of their label. There is a very specific angle at which Walker whiskey labels must be placed. Though nowadays labeling is a creative endeavor, such was not the case 200 years ago. The slanted labels of Johnnie Walker whiskey would have stood out among competitors, drawing the eye and influencing the way we market liquor, as well as many other consumer products.
A Warm, Peaty Hug Around the World
Still not convinced of whiskey’s popularity, and the love we have for it? How about the fact that virtually the entire world is surrounded by whiskey-producing regions. There are two distinct regions in the United States alone, centered on Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. Alongside these regions and the origin points of Scotland and Ireland, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand all have robust whiskey-production industries.
While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, the love for this alcohol has been so powerful throughout our history that it has found homes literally on the other side of the planet from where it was first sipped.
More Than You Could Possibly Drink
A huge factor in its popularity is whiskey taste. One way that we can measure the popularity of anything is how much of it is consumed by the population of the planet. While direct comparisons with other products would take far too much time and space, the amount of whisky exported by Scotland really speaks for itself.
Export figures from the last few years show that Scotland exports nearly 1.28 billion bottles of Scotch every year. One of the most unbelievable whiskey facts is that that number breaks down to exports of approximately 41 bottles every second. It’s hard to think of another alcohol that’s quite so popular.
But Why Do We Love Whiskey?
Have you read whiskey reviews? Does very thought of the words “peat” and “smoky” send you into a rage - what does all this even mean? One of the fundamental reasons we love any alcohol is the flavors and scents present. Alcoholic beverages tend to have flavors and scents that we don’t experience anywhere else, and the various types of whiskey are among the most unique.
The scents and flavors of peat (a moss that grows in boggy areas), or smoke, are fundamental to a lot of whiskies and are the reasons many people love the drink. Whiskey taste combines the various flavors from aging, maturing, and wooden barrels. As a result, whiskies bring us a pleasant mixture of tastes and scents to which we aren’t often exposed. Add that to the warm fuzziness a few shots of whiskey bring and is it any wonder it’s such a popular libation?
We tend to love things for a few different reasons. We love things that bring us sensations and feelings that we enjoy. We love things that warm our bellies and mellow our minds. We love things that have been with us for a long time, as a comfort and a balm. And whiskey (or whisky [or scotch]) has been with us for a long time. While the relationship can sometimes be a rocky one, it can be comforting and familiar too.