LEXICON: From Uisge Beatha to Uvula

The list of whisky words starting with ‘U’ is fairly short and sweet. And a few of
these entries start with ‘un’ or ‘under’ - which means that they actually indicate
the opposite or a diminished version of something. That’s a negative proposition.
I prefer positive propositions myself. You’ll be able to find lots of those in some
of the other sections of Malt Madness, so please feel free to browse around.


The phrase ‘uisge beatha’ is Scottish Gaelic for ‘water of life’.
The brand The Ultimate is owned by Dutch whisky importer Van Wees.
Umami is a Japanese word describing the ‘fifth’ taste sensation.
An unchillfiltered Scotch whisky retains a little more of its flavour.
When the ABV drops below 40%, the underproof spirit isn’t whisky anymore.
United Distillers was a predecessor of Diageo between 1987 and 1997.
Barley for whisky is often malted, but unmalted barley is used for beer.
The ruins of Urquhart Castle can be found on the shore of Loch Ness.
Usquaebach is (among other things) a brand of blended whisky.
Dutch for uvula is ‘huig’ - also the sound you make if whisky touches it.

Uisge beatha / Usquaebach

Uisge Beatha / Usquaebach

The film ‘Braveheart’ takes some liberties with historical facts, but Mel Gibson got at least
one thing right; the Gaelic peoples love their freedom. One of the ways they express that
freedom is in the many different ways they use to spell the Gaelic version of ‘aqua vitae’.

The Scots often use ‘uisge beatha’ while the Irish go for uisce beatha with a ‘c’.
However, sometimes it is spelled as ‘uisgeback’ or ‘usquebach’ as well. All versions
are based on the Latin phrase ‘aqua vitae’ which means “water of life”. Recent
medical research has shown that the supposed health benefits of whisky should be
taken with a grain of salt - especially when consumed in large quantities.
But it sounds nice...

There’s also the Usquaebach brand of blended whisky, depicted at the right.
I bought a few jars like those in the 1980s and the packaging seems to have hardly
changed for at least three decades. While I love the aesthetics of these earthenware
jars, I also have the impression that the whisky inside it oxidises fasther than the
contents of a regular glass bottle with a proper stopper. But that’s hardly a problem
if you plan to finish the contents of a jar within a few hours anyway. If you are among
friends participating that’s just fine, but if you’re alone it’s not as stylish as it looks...

Ultimate, The

When I discovered single malt whisky in the 1990s, there were just a handful of ‘established’ independent
bottlers of Scotch whisky. Dutch importer Van Wees launched ‘The Ultimate’ - which seemed a bit boastful
when Van Wees was still the proverbial new kid on the block. None of the releases I’ve sampled scored 90
points or more on my personal Hit List, but all of them offered very decent value for money I think.
However, please note that I sampled my last expression quite some time ago - things may have changed.


While I was wasting away my time at elementary school my elders told me that there were four basic tastes;
sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Yeah, well... Thanks to scientific progress and the Japanese we now know that
(most) people can experience a fifth taste sensation: umami. The umami flavour is still not very widely
known among westerners, but the more familiar term ‘savoury’ seems to come close.


Virtually all Scotch whisky has been chill filtered since the 1950s - and apparently nobody complained
about that for decades. During the revival of malt whisky in the new millennium, some ‘nerds’ worried that
chill filtration also removed some of the flavours. The market responded with unchillfiltered releases.

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Malt whiskies are usually released at either the ‘standard’ ABV of 40% or 43% or as a ‘cask strength’ or
overproof bottlingss with a higher alcohol content. However, sometimes the angels take more than their
fair share of alcohol from a cask of maturing whisky. Especially with old or leaky casks, the alcohol contents
can drop below 40%. This ‘underproof’ spirit isn’t whisky anymore according to Scottish law and cannot
be sold as such unless it is blended with the contents of one or more other casks with a higher proof.

United Distillers

The company United Distillers was a predecessor of Diageo that operated between 1987 and 1997.
Due to shenanigans and many name changes within a few years, the exact nature of the relation between
Guinness, Diageo, United Distillers and International Distillers & Vintners around the 1990s is vague.

Unmalted Barley

Although Scotch malt whisky needs to be made from malted barley by law, it is possible to extract sugars
from unmalted barley as well. However, this may require the artificial addition of enzymes which would
have otherwise been produced by the malting process. Many Irish whiskeys are made from a mixture of
malted and unmalted barley and most Scotch grain whiskies use unmalted barley as well. This generally
produces a whisk(e)y with a notably ‘grainier’ profile and a smoother mouth feel than many malt whiskies.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle in Scotland

If you love Scotch whisky, few
travel destinations are as
attractive as Scotland.

Many visitors make their way
to the Speyside region, in which
case Urquhart Castle is nearby.
Its ruins are located on the
shore of Loch Ness, some 20
kilometres from Inverness.

An early version of the castle
was taken in 1296 by Edward I
of England. The castle was also
seized by the Lords of the Isles
several times before parts of it
were purposefully demolished
in 1692.

(* The old technology used for Malt Madness doesn’t allow me to present the information in the most user-friendly
way possible. Check out my new personal website for a fresh attempt at a site, covering a wider range of topics.)


The palatine uvula is a projection hanging from the soft palate. Scientists claim that its main function
is closing off the nasal cavity during swallowing so that your food and drink don’t end up in your nose.
One secondary ‘function’ is preventing excessive consumption of whisky; when you try to swallow large
gulps of whisky your uvula might protest and if you have been indulging in whisky (and/or tobacco) for
a prolonged period of time, your uvula might become enlarged - telling you that you should slow down.

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