All too often these days, we can’t even identify what we´re drinking. If you’re going to order one bourbon, one scotch, one beer a la George Thorogood, it’s probably best if you actually know what each drink actually is. So, with that noble goal in mind, here is your Whiskey Cheat Sheet:
Whiskey was first made in Ireland by missionary monks (who make the best booze and beer because the secrets are given to them by God) as early as the sixth century. Along with spreading The Word of The Lord, they also began distilling whiskey, or as it’s called in Gaelic, uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.” Occupying British soldiers in the 12th century bastardized the pronunciation (as well as the country), and it eventually came out “whisky”.
Whiskey is a general term describing many spirits. Every region/country that makes whiskey has its own rules & regulations for the liquor to be considered official — so they can set themselves apart and then have a pissing contest to see whose is better. Whiskey in the simplest of terms is comprised of water, a grain and yeast (if you add hops to those three, you get beer), and is aged in oak casks. The way you manipulate these ingredients accounts for all of the different varieties.
The four major types are Irish Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, American Whiskey, & Canadian Whisky. The Irish & Americans spell it with the ‘e’; the rest of the world leaves it off to save on printing costs. Let’s break it down:
Distilled three times. Uses pure-malted barley as the grain. Aged at least three years in oak casks.
Scotch or Scottish Whisky
Distilled twice. Also uses barley, which is dried over peat fire, giving scotch it’s characteristic smoky flavor. Aged at least two years in oak.
Made from a mash (mixture) of cereal grain. Aged at least two years in charred, unused oak.
Uses at least 51 percent malted rye as the grain. Aged at least three years in oak.
Other Fun Facts:
A whiskey stops maturing after it’s bottled, so it won’t get “better” over time.
A closed bottle can be kept for more than 100 years and you’ll still be good to go. So, raid your parents’ liquor cabinet and grab that sealed Jameson from Christmas of ’87.
An opened bottle is all right for five years. This is good to know for nicer bottles, but you should be drinking that handle of Beam way quicker than that.
The oak barrels give the whiskey its caramel color. There is no Red 40 or Yellow 5 added.
Whiskey gains as much as 60 percent of its flavor from the type of cask used in the aging process.
Bourbon is an American Whiskey made from at least 51 percent corn. It no longer has to be made in Bourbon, Ky., but 90 percent of it is.
Bourbon County, Ky., is a dry county. Which is just stupid.
The reason Jack Daniel’s is not considered bourbon is because they filter it through sugar-maple charcoal (“mellowing”) prior to aging.
While most people think that adding ice or water to whiskey is sacrilegious, it is all about taste. One person might prefer his whiskey neat (straight up), but a small amount of water or ice will bring out more subtle, nuanced flavors. Give it a try … just stay away from the mixers. You’re a man now.