uisge beatha – the water of life

Oban is known for it’s seafood and whisky. I enjoyed a bit of both in this little town along with more good weather to boot. Despite its bend toward tourists, Oban is full of history. They have found artifacts in Oban dating back to 4000 B.C. that show there were people inhabiting this seaside town even then. Impressive.

But, I’m more inclined to the other offerings of Oban.

So I went to another Ceilidh Saturday night and danced til my heart was content. I worshipped at the Corran Esplande Parrish this morning. Then I toured the Oban distillery and got a better understanding the process of making whisky in Scotland.

Oban’s distillery process (and maybe all whisky making for all I know) uses only the “heart” of the spirits when sending their alcohol to age in barrels. Once the alcohol has been distilled, they separate it into 3 parts: the head, heart and tail. The head is the first 20% that comes out of the distiller. It’s mixed with the tail, the last 20%. The heart, the middle 60%, goes straight to the barrels to be aged(for 14 years!). The head and tail aren’t thrown out though. They are sent back to the distiller for a little more work where they are mixed with a new batch of wort (formed when water is washed through the grist) to start the distillation process over again. Using only the heart of the spirits each time, ensures they have top quality drink in every bottle of Oban Whisky.

You will often hear the Gaelic phrase ‘uisge beatha’ (pronounced ooshkie bayh) when talking about whisky. It translates to “water of life”. Monks that originally crafted whisky believed it has medicinal properties. (Many during flu season in the south still agree!) But if whisky is indeed the water of life and it’s made with only the heart of the spirits, I can’t help but wonder…

If we used only our heart in life, would it ensure the best quality product? If we sent our thoughts from our head and our, ahem, “tail” back for some more time in the boiler before we acted, would our end result be closer to perfection? How do we skim off the parts of ourselves that aren’t ready yet? What parts of myself need a second distilling before they are ready to produce and get better with age?

I’m not sure I have any answers for that just yet. And honestly, at this point in my trip, it makes me tired just thinking about it. But I’m now on a train from Oban to Glasgow with plenty of time to ponder and beautiful scenery to inspire. And I’ll likely keep the pictures of the inner workings of that distillery in my head for quite a while.

I fly back to the States in the morning. Just enough time for one last wee dram of uisge beatha, full of heart.

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2 thoughts on “uisge beatha – the water of life

  1. Hi Kim – I’ve had fun following your Sabbatical on your blog. Any chance that Oban sells in the US? I never heard of it, and I do like a single malt.

    1. I think they do. If you can’t find it in a store I know you can find it online. I can’t remember the name of their distributor but its one that distributes widely and in the US. Shouldn’t be too hard to get your hands on some. They gave it to us along with some crystallized ginger. That was an amazing combo!

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