"Water of Life" ... when I studied Gaelic several years back and discovered that the literal translation of the two words above meant "whisky" in English (an obvious grammatical corruption of the original), I was delighted!
Now, in my mind, beer is for everyday, wine for family holiday dinners, but uisge beatha is for whenever I am lucky enough to be able to sit and savor its taste.... there's just nothing to compare in complexity to a good single malt. There are even a few of you out there that already know this more obscure passion of mine, but most will be surprised.
I appreciated American whiskies as a college grrl, but not really all that much, when you consider the drinking habits of those barely on one side or the other of legal drinking age. I really have my FIL, Jim, to thank for nurturing my appreciation of the finer points of a good, Scottish (redundant, that) single malt. He has been a fan most of his adult life, and we all know that one of the best gifts for him is to sniff out a hard-to-find varietal to surprise him with... unfortunately here in the Sierras there are seldom more than five or six true choices, as most "whiskey" in the U.S. is blended, and lacks the depth.
I did have the rare pleasure of visiting a Scottish imports shop in downtown San Francisco a few years back that had a whole wall... in between the tartans and sporrans and mugs with thistle prints was the largest collection I had ever seen.
Jim, on the other hand, has the delightful story to re-tell about visiting Edinborough and discovering a truck that was dripping from its keg-spout... yes, you guessed, uisge beatha from one of the outlying distilleries. They discovered what it was by licking fingers stuck under the drip! Turns out all of the product has to be brought into Edinborough to be taxed prior to being bottled and distributed far and wide.
There are three ingredients to uisge - barley, water and yeast, but peat is the secret of the smoky taste that makes single malts from the northern islands of Scotland distinctive... slow-roasting the malt over a peat fire. I guess I should explain that malt is barley grain that has been soaked and is just at the right moment before sprouting when roasted slowly over a fire... but I can't really detail the entire distillation process, never having done or watched it.
My personal favorites come from Isle of Islay, such as Laphroaig and Bowmore, with those from Speyside a close second (such as Macallan, Dalwhinnie, and the old standbys, Glenfiddich or Glenlivit, which I can usually order in a bar). Much like wine, the longer the aging, the mellower and finer the uisge ... and the higher the price. Mostly, I am relegated to drinking 12 or 15 year olds, but a few times have had the chance to try an 18 or 25 year old uisge, and there IS a difference!