If you are a seasoned drinker or just a beginner stepping into the world of alcohol, single malt is one of the most loved options. Just like wine, single malt connoisseurs take immense pride in knowing their drams. Did you know how your favourite spirit gets its colour and what is it’s relation to the flavour? To get a better understanding of this, we got in touch with Evonne Eadie, National Reserve Brand Ambassador & World Class India Lead, Diageo India.
What makes a single malt?
There are only three ingredients that go into a malt whisky. They are malted barley, water, and yeast. What turns these simple ingredients into the delicious liquid we drink, is time and skilled processing. It is a long process that involves mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation to take it from three raw ingredients into the liquid we know and love.
What gives it the colour?
All distilled spirits are clear when they come off the still. A spirit’s color depends on the time the liquid spends in oak barrels during maturation which allows it to interact with the wood. In cooler climates like Scotland, it can take many years to reach the ideal level of maturation, but in warmer environments, the maturation process is sped up when the oak swells and shrinks due to temperature changes. While maturing, the wood will remove some flavors from the spirit, the spirit will adopt flavors and colors from the wood, and new flavours are created from the reaction between the two.
Initially, the spirit takes on a soft, straw-like colour that deepens into a rich golden hue over time.
How does colour determine taste?
Colour does not specifically determine taste but it can be indicative about the style of spirit you might be drinking. For example, I mentioned all the spirits are clear, to begin with, so if you see a coloured liquid then you know it has either been through a maturation process and will have flavors the oak has imparted, or it has additives after distillation to bring in the colour. This is often found in liqueurs or bitters in which herbs, fruits, flowers, or roots have been added to impact flavour. In the case of whisky, the longer it spends in the barrel, darker the colour could be. That, however, does not mean the darker the whisky, the better the liquid. There are some younger malts that are delicious, and I would choose them over older malts any day.
What has been in the barrel prior to the spirit can also have an impact on the colour of malt and the flavours that they impart. For example, deep red or burgundy colours in a malt give you the indication that it had spent time in barrels that had had either sherry or potentially a red wine in them before the spirit and have left some residue in the wood that then flavors and colors the next liquid.
What should be mixed with the malt and other details to be kept in mind?
When tasting a malt for the first time I like to have a sip without adding anything to the glass. I believe this is exactly what the master distiller wanted you to taste when they made the bottle, so I always taste it like that first. Taking a few small sips and letting the liquid melt onto my palate will then let me know what I should do next. After that, it’s entirely up to you that you would like to do with it; there is no right or wrong way to drink malts.
If you are adding ice, it will dilute the drink by slightly by reducing the alcohol strength making it slightly more palatable. It is also going to remove some of the heat and close some flavors as you lower the temperature you do not taste as many volatile flavors. So, that is just something to keep in mind. If you are looking for something more refreshing, you can always have it with a touch of soda, which is going to make it effervescent, and a great way to drink malts on a warm day. The only thing you need to remember when drinking single malts is that there is no single right way, it is completely up to you to decide how you will enjoy it best.