So broad is the spectrum of the word whiskey. When you see a group enter a bar and go straight to the bar keep, you will hear orders such as “Bourbon”, or “Scotch” or you’ll hear a mention of the names “Jack”, “Johnny”, or “Jim” mentioned a few times. If this is your first time hearing these names, you will be dumbfounded in such a way that you wonder to yourself who are these famous guys who seem to have their name as a drink that many people order. As you get yourself used to hearing these names on a regular basis inside pubs or bars, you realize that there are very fascinating stories behind the lore of these names.
Whiskey is defined as a distilled spirit obtained from the fermented mash of grain, which is kept in oak barrels and are stored for a period of time depending on the maturation of the liquid or spirit. It seems that the longer these are stored, the better they taste. You will also find out that the type of would that these barrels are made from play a big part in the taste of the spirit after time.
A Brief History
The word whiskey originates from the Latin words “uisge beatha” which mean “water of life”. It is recorded that whiskey was originally used as a medicine for both internal anesthetic use and as an external antibiotic. Much like the alcohol that we use on our wounds and ailments, whiskey was originally used by monks for medicinal processes. They then introduced the Distilling process to Ireland and Scotland during the middle of 1100’s and 1300’s. Back in that age, wine was scarce in both countries so they had to make do with Barely beer, which they distilled into liquor. Through time and a tedious trial and error process that they were eventually able to turn the liquor into what we now know as whiskey.
Fast-forwarding into the 1700’s, whiskey had become a very sought after commodity that it was actually a form of payment or currency in the American Revolutionary war. Whiskey was so famous at that point that there was an uprising of Scottish and Irish Immigrant farmers in response to a federal tax law that was imposed on whiskey by Alexander Hamilton. They were eventually caught but the name of the rebellion was the Whiskey Rebellion which only lent more legend to the name Whiskey.
Types of Whiskey
Irish whiskey is considered the founding father of whiskey as it was the first of its kind. Its process involved blending of pot-stilled malted and unmalted whiskey and column-stilled corn-based grain whiskey or triple distilled malted barley. This whiskey is placed in barrels for three years and is distilled in low temperatures. The taste of this form of whiskey resembles honey as it is sweet.
Hailing from Scotland, this whiskey is distilled in a malt drying process that is done over a peat-fueled fire, which allows the smoke to come in direct contact with the malt, gives this liquor a smoky flavor. Each region of Scotland produces a different and distinct type of scotch whiskey. Depending on which region, you will either find “single malt” or “blended” on the label of the scotch bottle along with an age statement.
This whiskey is from the U.S.A, namely Kentucky. This American blend is a mash blended from corn and other grain whiskies and is distilled at 160 proof, or 80% alcohol and must be aged a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels, although it is often aged for four years or more. No other ingredients, blending, or additives is allowed in the mixture of Bourbon.
This whiskey is very similar to the Kentucky whiskey Bourbon. It is also distilled from corn mash but the difference is the filtration process where the whiskey is allowed to slowly drip through 10 feet of sugar-maple charcoal, a process that can take up to 2 weeks at a time. The whiskey is then transferred to a charred barrel for aging, a minimum of two years.
This whiskey is composed of wheat and barley however US law dictates that at least 51% of grain used is rye. Rye Whiskey is very similar in taste with Bourbon but is a bit spicier and bitter due to the natural bitterness of rye. During Colonial times Rye Whiskey was very popular, especially in the northeast, however Prohibition damaged the industry and only a few distilleries continued production after it was repealed.
American Blended Whiskey
This whisky resembles Scotch whiskey because this is a combination of straight whiskies and grain spirits that are combined to create one distinct spirit. A blended whiskey must contain at least 20% straight whiskey and premium brands may have as many as 75 different straight whiskies and grain neutral spirits.
Canadian whiskey is described as light-bodied, versatile and very mixable. Made primarily of corn or wheat and supplemented with rye, barley, or barley malt, Canadian Whiskey is aged in used oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years although most are aged for 4-6 years. Almost all Canadian Whiskey is a blend of various grain whiskies of different ages.
Take it from this writer, who enjoys Whiskey immensely. There are numerous mixtures and cocktails that use whisky as its prime spirit. You can take the whiskey neat or on the rocks as well. In my experience drinking this fine liquor I can honestly say that I am very thankful to the monks for introducing the distilling process. It is a fine and tasty treat. Please take in moderation so as not to get drunk.