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Whisky is a popular alcoholic spirit closely associated with Scotland, but also produced in other parts of the world. The name comes from the Gaelic language phrase, uisce beatha, meaning literally "water of life." Similar spirits produced in Ireland, Canada, and the United States of America are spelt whiskey. Whisky is produced by twice distilling a beer made from barley or other grains (Bourbon, in the United States, the most popular American whiskey, is, by law, made primarily from corn). The resulting spirit is stored in wooden barrels for several years during which time it matures and gathers flavour. It is common for whisky to mature in the barrel for as long as 8 to 12 years. Some whiskies may stay in the barrel for 25, 50 years or even longer. The length of time the whisky matured is reflected in its price tag.


All Scotch whiskies (including "single malts") are blends, in that they are a mixture of whiskies from several casks (a single cask will produce only a few hundred bottles). A "single malt" is thus the product not of a single cask, but of a single distillery. The age of the malt is thus the age of the youngest cask used in the blend. Scotch whiskies differ very markedly in their smell and taste. Speyside malts, like Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Knockando and Cardhu, which are smooth and light coloured, are matured in casks once used to contain sherry or port. Islay malts, like Laphroaig, Bowmore, Ardbeg and Lagavulin, are matured in casks that were formerly used to produce bourbon.