Whiskey Basics

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There’s more to whiskey than you might think. From various flavors and grains to distinct distillation process, the whiskey world is surprisingly complex. There are four countries that have their own unique style of whiskey. Scotland has Scotch, Ireland has Irish Whiskey, Canada has Canadian Whiskey, and America has several types, including Rye Whiskey, Blended American Whiskey, and bourbon. Whiskey is also produced in countries all around the world. Because of this, there’s a kind of whiskey that will suit all kinds of tastes. Any fan is likely to have a strong opinion about which one is best.

Whiskey

Scotch Whisky:

“Whisky” isn’t a typo. In Scotland, it is traditionally spelled without the letter “e”. This type of spirit is known for its strong and smoky flavor, which comes from the drying process. This is partially done over a fire fueled by peat. This allows the smoke to come into contact with the malt. The smoke is a big part of Scotch, but every part of Scotland has their own unique flavors. When looking at Scotch, you’ll see either “blended” or “single malt” on the label alongside the age of the whiskey. When it comes to blended Scotch, the age given is the age of the youngest whiskey the blend contains.

Blended Scotch Whisky makes up the majority of Scotch sold. Its popularity is partially due to how well it works in cocktails. While single-malt  has a smoother tone, the tone of blended Scotch is dampened by mixing them with grain whiskeys. They’re aged separately, then places in a cask together for a few months. Scotch blends are considered to be an art form, and there are secret recipes all over Scotland. No one knows exactly what the blends are, but it’s common for somewhere between 20 to 25 whiskies to be used. Anywhere from 20 to 50% of that blend tends to be single malt. High caliber blended Scotch will use more single malt, which gives it a deep flavor. Many brands focus on creating the perfect blend.

Single-Malt Scotch is made in one distillery. There are approximately 100 different distilleries across Scotland that make single-malt. Every one of them has unique notes and flavors.

Irish Whiskey:

Every kind of whiskey owes a lot to Irish Whiskey. This whiskey generally mixes a column-stilled grain whiskey with a corn base with pot-stilled whiskey, both unmalted and malted. Some kinds of whiskey, like Bushmills, also include a triple distilled malted, also known as a single malt. The blend is very complex, which gives it a distinct flavor. Unlike Scotch, Irish Whiskey is dried at a low temperature away from smoke and fire using a closed kiln. It has a light, sweet flavor that’s reminiscent of honey. The whiskey is aged using bourbon or wine barrels for a period of at least 3 years.  Click here to learn more about Irish whiskey

Bourbon Whiskey

Whenever one thinks about Bourbon, a Mint Julep and Kentucky comes to mind immediately.  The name Bourbon whiskey comes from Kentucky’s Bourbon County.  However, it is allowed to be distilled in every U.S. state.  An Act of Congress passed in 1964 requires it to have a mashbill that is 51% corn at least, with the rest being comprised of other grain whiskies.  This straight whiskey is referred to as “America’s Native Spirit.”  It is required to be distilled to 160 proof maximum (80% alcohol) and aged for two years at least in charred, new oak barrels.  However, it frequently is aged for four years or even longer.  Bourbon is not allowed to have any additive or blending.  Click here to learn more about Bourbon Whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey

Sour mash Tennessee whiskey is quite similar to Bourbon.  It just needs to be distilled with a minimum 51% corn and maximum 79%.  What makes Tennessee Whiskey distinct is the filtration process that allows the whiskey to drip slowly through 10 feet worth of maple-sugar charcoal.  The process may take as long as two weeks for a batch to complete.  It is called “Lincoln County Process.”  Next the whiskey gets put into a charred barrel to age for at least two years.  Tennessee whiskey often has a charcoal taste to it.  It is most prominent brands are George Dickel and Jack Daniels.  Click here to learn more about Tennessee Whiskey.

Rye Whiskey

Rye Whiskey is commonly made out of barley and wheat.  U.S. law, however, mandates that a minimum of 51% of the grain used be rye.  In terms of taste, Rye Whiskey is similar to Bourbon.  However, it has a slightly bitter flavor and spiciness to it that comes from rye’s natural bitterness.  Rye Whiskey during Colonial times was very popular, particularly in the northeast.  The industry, however, was damaged by Prohibition.  After its repeal just a couple of distilleries continued with production.  In recent years rye has been making a comeback.  Interest in classic cocktails has been renewed, and rye whiskey is called for regularly for these drinks.

American Blended Whiskey

This whiskey, like blended Scotch, is comprised of carefully selected grain spirits and straight whiskies that are combined to create a very distinct spirit.  It is required for blended whiskies to contain a minimum of 20% straight whiskey.  Premium brands might have up to 75 different grain neutral spirits and straight whiskies.  The art of blending results in a light-bodied, rich and balanced whiskey, with each one having its very own and distinct character.

Canadian Whiskey

Anytime “whiskey” is called for in a cocktail, you might want to select a good Canadian Whiskey.  This is because it is very mixable, versatile and light-bodied.  Canadian Whiskey is primarily made of wheat or corn and supplemented with barley malt, barley or rye.  It is aged inside used oak barrels for 3 years at least.  However, a majority of these whiskies are aged  4 to 6 years.  Most Canadian Whiskies are a blend of different grain whiskies of various ages.  Click here to learn more about Canadian Whisky

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