World Whisky Day takes place on May 19
World Whisky Day takes place on May 19
Image: Supplied

1. IT'S THE "WATER OF LIFE"

Whisky in Gaelic means “water of life”, and it certainly has been making life more interesting for centuries and centuries (and centuries).

Both Ireland and Scotland claim to have given birth to whisky but neither country has definitive proof. In any case, Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be one of the oldest legally functioning distilleries. Operations on the present site date back to 1276. We think anything that’s survived that long deserves a toast.

2. ITS DIVERSITY

Unlike wine, which is always made from grapes, whisky can be made from a range of grains – barley, corn, rye, wheat and even rice. These grains are crushed and water is added to create a mash. This is boiled, then cooled before yeast is added to facilitiate fermentation. The resulting liquid is distilled and aged in wooden barrels. Depending on the particulars of the process used, the resulting nectar could be any one of an equally diverse range of whisky styles: single malt, blended, Scotch, Irish, bourbon or Tennessee to name a few.

3. SOME PEOPLE SAY "WHISKY" NOT "CHEESE"

In the US state of Kentucky, there are more barrels of maturing bourbon than there are people. However, with a population of 5.3 million, and more than 20 million barrels of whiskey in store, Scotland has almost four casks per citizen and about 34 bottles of whisky are exported from the country every second! So widespread is whisky’s fame, that in 1956 it replaced William in the Nato phonetic alphabet. And in certain Latin American countries, people say “whisky” instead of “cheese” when posing for photos. One more reason to smile as you raise your glass!

4. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE

It’s not called the water of life for nothing - Charles Joughin, the baker on board the doomed Titanic, trod water for three hours before being rescued. He claimed he hadn’t succumbed to the cold due to the amount of whisky he had drunk.

If that’s not undeniable proof of whisky’s health attributes, how about this little-known fact - while filming in the Congo, the majority of the cast of The African Queen became sick with dysentery from drinking the water. Director John Huston and actor Humphrey Bogart emerged unscathed, allegedly because they drank nothing but whisky throughout.

5. IT'S A REAL GLOBETROTTER

Whisky may have originated in a tiny corner of the globe but it has spread to become a true spirit of the world. Across the planet, from Japan to the US, from the hustle of India to remote islands off Sweden, you’ll find beautifully diverse whiskies stirring and shaking things up.

Japanese whiskies have been winning top honors in international competitions for decades - particularly those of Nikka's distillery in Yoichi and Suntory's Yamazaki distillery. India’s centuries-old whisky history is evolving from record-breaking import figures to high quality homegrown expressions. In Sweden, you’ll find more than a handful of funky whiskies – from the Spirit of Hven (produced on a tiny island) to Mackmyra (made with Swedish barley and melted glacial water).

Canada, Australia, Taiwan and many other countries are also gaining impressive followings for their local whisky.

6. IT’S CELEBRATED IN SOUTH AFRICA

Last, but certainly not least, whisky has been making ever-increasing waves in South Africa. Not only is there a growing appreciation for the spirit here but our local distilleries are being recognised far and wide.

What’s more, official celebrations for World Whisky Day are here too. The Stack (in Cape Town) and Churchills (in Joburg) will be hosting events on May 19.

If you’re not able to make those, don’t miss the Wade Bales Wine & Malt Whisky Affair happening on May 17 and 18 in Cape Town and May 24 and 25 in Joburg.

These affairs promise to deliver the ultimate indulgence for fine wine enthusiasts and whisky connoisseurs alike. Tickets are R290 per person and include all wine and whisky tastings, a complimentary glass and a delectable selection of snacks. Visit wadebales.co.za for more information.

Wade Bales is the Founder of Wade Bales Fine Wines & Spirits: wadebales.co.za

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