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Whisky tips and recipe ideas

World Whisky Day is celebrated on 20th May but let’s be honest, many of us don’t need an excuse to honour this king among alcoholic beverages.

Heavily associated with its birthplace of Scotland, whisky is consumed by people across the entire globe and used as an ingredient in everything from indulgent desserts to homemade cold remedies.

And here at Erudus we like it so much that we’ve put together this list of tips, menu ideas and FAQs to help you with all of your whisky needs...

What is whisky?

Whisky (also sometimes as spelled as whiskey - see below) is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash (crushed grain combined with water) which has then been distilled. Whiskies are aged in wooden casks, with different woods and treatments used for different whisky varieties.

Wheat, rye, corn and barley are all grains that can be used to make whisky, but they all must be fermented, distilled and aged in barrels in order to qualify as whisky.

Where does whisky come from?

Whisky can come from several different places, though it is thought to have originated in Scotland, where the first evidence of whisky production was recorded in 1495. In fact, the word whisky has its beginnings in the Gaelic translation of ‘water of life’, 'uisge beatha', or 'usquebaugh'.

Though Scotch whisky must be made in Scotland, whisky also comes from Canada (where the industry saw a significant boom during the American prohibition), and Japan.

Whiskey with an ‘e’ can come from Ireland or the United States, where bourbon is the most popular type.

Menu Idea - Old Fashioned

This American favourite has been a cocktail menu staple for well over a century - first mentioned in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1880, but gained a whole new lease of life as the drink of choice of Mad Men icon Don Draper in the 2010s.

But not only does it add class to any drinks list, it’s easy to make and contains no wild or hard to source ingredients. Simply muddle sugar with bitters and water, add a generous amount of whisky and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Whisky tip - Learn the best use for each whisky

Whisky can be used as an ingredient in many different things, but some varieties of whisky are better suited to a specific purpose than others. To get the best results, become familiar with different whiskies, their flavours and uses. For example:

  • Blended scotch is better for cocktails than single malt, as it is less expensive and has a less overpowering taste.
  • Bourbon makes a fantastic addition to meat dishes because it’s smoky sweetness contrasts beautifully with the saltiness of the meat.
  • Rye whisky has a spicy tang that compliments fruit, making it the ideal choice for puddings such as trifle and pavlova.

Is it whisky or whiskey?

It depends on where the whisky is from. In Scotland, Japan and Canada it is spelled ‘whisky’. In Ireland and America it is spelled ‘whiskey’ with an ‘e’.

Menu Idea - Whisky Cream Sauce

Whisky sauce is traditionally eaten with Haggis on Burns Night, but this Scottish staple alo works as a tasty and unusual sauce for other red meat dishes. Creamy but with a kick, it can be used as a burger relish or combined with caramel to make custard or pudding.

Whisky sauce is made by setting whisky alight in a hot saucepan and stirring in plenty of double cream. Use immediately or freeze and use as needed - the sauce will stay good for 3 months in the freezer.

Which whisky is best?

This is down to personal preference, there is no certified ‘best’ whisky.

However, single malt whisky is generally considered the most premium type. Single malt is made at a single distillery and is exclusively made with barley, whereas blended whisky might contain multiple grains and combine expensive whisky with less expensive whisky. As such, single malt generally has a more distinctive flavour and in considered to be of higher quality than blended whisky.

Menu Idea - Whisky Cheesecake

A rich dessert with an edge, this dish has real novelty value and can put a modern twist on traditional St Patrick's Day or Burns Night menus. It works especially well for fruit-based cheesecakes, as the sharp whisky (or whiskey if you’re opting for an Irish variety) balances out the sweetness of the fruit.

To add this boozy kick to your cheesecake, simply add 4 capfuls of whisky to your cream cheese mixture to top the cake.

Whisky tip - Store your whisky properly

Whisky can be an expensive ingredient, so it’s important to look after your stocks and not allow their quality to be compromised. Keep whisky bottles in a cool, dry area where the temperature and conditions don’t fluctuate.

This isn’t just because of external factors like the label getting spoiled, but the liquid itself will expand if there is a constant change in temperature. Do not keep the bottle out in direct sunlight, and try to finish it within 2 months of opening to maintain the flavour.

What is the difference between whisky and scotch?

The difference between scotch whisky and other whiskies is that scotch whisky must be entirely manufactured and bottled in Scotland.

Whisky or whiskey can come from places such as Ireland, America, Canada and Japan using different ingredients and production processes but scotch is made from barley and is heated over a peat fire after malting (hence the distinctive flavour).

Whisky tip - Use whisky to deglaze your pans

Chefs and bakers frequently use wine or other alcoholic drinks to deglaze their pans and add to sauces and gravies. Whisky can also be used for this purpose - it’s not only unusual and will make your dishes stand out, it’s flavour packs a punch and can jazz up even bland dishes.

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Does whisky contain allergens?

You might think that whisky contains Cereals containing Gluten, one of the 14 major food allergens, because it is made from grains such as barley or wheat but most or all of these allergens are usually removed during the distillation process. This means that those with Coeliac disease or an allergy or intolerance to gluten can drink whisky - though those with a severe allergy might want to be cautious and avoid drinking large amounts of the beverage.

Whisky does not contain any other of the 14 major food allergens.

Menu Idea - Bourbon-glazed ham

This culinary showpiece is actually incredibly versatile, aside from being served hot for festive occasions, it’s also great served cold on summer menus, and the contrast of salty ham and sweet bourbon can elevate something as simple as a ham and cheese sandwich into gastro quality.

The glaze is made by mixing 1 part molasses, 1 part bourbon and 2 parts honey, and adding a splash of orange juice and a couple spoonfuls of dijon mustard. Be sure to cook your ham loosely covered - you don’t want the glaze transferring to the foil, but cooking ham uncovered means the meat’s water will evaporate and it will become dry and tasteless.

Whisky tip - Use the correct glassware

When serving whisky as a drink the choice of glass can actually contribute to the experience, not just because it looks nice but because it can alter the flavour too. Whisky neat should be served in a tulip-shaped glass with a tapered neck - this allows the aroma delivered to the nose to be more concentrated and the flavour more intense.

Whisky on the rocks should be served in a heavy, sturdy glass in which the ice can melt slowly, preventing a watery drink.

Highball glasses are the correct choice if creating a whisky cocktail with lots of ingredients, but for something simple like an Old Fashioned a short whisky tumbler works best.

Is whisky vegan?

Yes, most whisky is vegan as both the ingredients and method of making it do not involve any animal products. The only exception to this is whiskies that use honey as an ingredient (such as honey bourbons). Honey is seen by some vegan as unsuitable for their diet.

Is bourbon whisky?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey (with the ‘e’) and must be made in the United States to carry the name bourbon.

It is generally associated with the Southern states, and was first produced in Kentucky. Unlike most other whiskies, bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, and uses a sour mash process (where the main mash is fermented with yeast and added to some already fermented mash). Some types of bourbon are aged in charcoal casks and have their own distinctive flavour.

Menu Idea - Hot Toddy

Not so much a cocktail as a digestif, the Hot Toddy not only helps with digestion but it can also be a soothing beverage that helps people relax, and a decongestant that helps aid colds and sniffles (that’s because the whisky dilates blood vessels and helps mucus deal with sinus infections). Perfect then, for winter drinks menus - particularly for those looking for an alcoholic drink weaker and more hydrating that most spirits or cocktails.

It’s also incredibly easy to make - simply add whisky to hot water, stir in honey and a squeeze of lemon. Serve in a glass or a cup and saucer with a slice of lemon.

Whisky tip - Don’t go overboard

Whisky has a very strong aroma and flavour and can overpower a dish all too easily. If cooking with whisky for the first time, err on the side of caution and keep tasting as you go to ensure the balance is right.

You should also remember that whisky is highly flammable, so if cooking it over a direct flame you must be very careful - lower the head and reduce the liquid before turning it up.

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