While the intoxicating effects of hard liquor are certainly attractive, it’s the subtleties of taste and complexities of the drink’s history that we savor ultimately. Culture and geography have both shaped whiskey’s rich global narrative. From the genesis of the Old Bushmills Distillery in northern Ireland in 1608 (they claim to be the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world) to the libation’s younger, trans-Atlantic cousins in North America, whiskey offers a fascinating lens through which we can examine everything from international commerce to immigration.
The Hôtel Concorde Berlin’s Lutèce Bar recently invited me to spend an evening chatting with whiskey connoisseur and barman Sebastian Klink. The term whiskey is actually an anglicized form of the original Gaelic uisce–revealing the drink’s native Irish and Scottish heritage. Whiskey is distilled from a mash of fermented grains, and it’s the different grain combinations of barely, rye, wheat and corn that result in the spirit’s plentitude of varieties — as well as the wooden, charred-oak casks in which it’s aged. From country to country, the liquor exhibits great regional range — including aromatic bouquet, primary taste, lingering finish, preferable cocktail combinations, and even distinctive mood-altering effects. It should be noted that the production and labeling of whiskey is strictly regulated internationally. Four countires primarily represent the spirit: aforementioned Ireland and Scotland, as well as the United States and Canada.
Ireland is represented by only four distilleries, and the country is most known for its triple-distilled whiskeys, whether made entirely from malted barley, or also a combination of malted and unmalted barleys. Irish whiskey is said to have a smoother finish in comparison to its Scottish counterpart (often just called Scotch), which tends to be smokier and earthier because of the peat used in the malting process. Across the pond, American regulation holds that all whiskeys produced in the U.S. must be aged in brand-new charred-oak casks (in fact, Irish and Scottish producers are known to buy the singly-used American casks for their own use, which helps enhance flavors and also minimizes expense). The Canadian industry tends to produce multi-grain blended whiskeys that are comparatively lighter and more feminine than the strong, masculine bodies of many whiskeys.
The Hôtel Concorde Berlin’s Lutèce Bar has begun pairing whiskey, served neat, with a small snack that complements and enhances the characteristics inherent of the drink’s manifold expressions. As pictured above, Ardbeg Scotch — with its forward peaty taste — finds new dimensions alongside a wedge of salty Parmesan cheese. Conversely, the dreamier Glenmorangie — also from Scotland — combines handsomely with white-chocolate chips and fresh mint. However it’s served — whether a blackberry-purée cocktail designed by lead barman Nico or the old standby Whiskey Sour — the spirit will certainly stimulate the palate. Cheers!