As a modern gentleman, you exude refinement in every aspect of your life. You care for your beard with only the finest products on the market. You follow fashion trends but you never forget classic haberdashery. You get your hands dirty but you always clean up well. But being a modern gent extends to other facets including your drink of choice. The college days are behind you and along with them are your days of viewing Bud Light as a premium beverage. Whisky may have been the liquor you turned to just to get drunk faster, but there’s so much more to it. Whisky requires knowledge and a more refined palette to be truly appreciated.
What Is Whisky?
Whisky is a distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash. It gains its dark color and taste from the aging process. They’re typically aged in wooden casks of varying types.
Whisky vs. Whiskey
So there’s whisky and there’s whiskey. Dropping the “ey” isn’t the result of some quirky British preference. The spelling indicates where it’s from. Spirits from Canada, Scotland or Japan are referred to as whisky without the “e”. If they’re from Ireland or the US, they’re referred to as whiskey. However, some American brands like Maker’s Mark label their spirits as whisky. It can be quite confusing but know that either way, people will know what you’re talking about.
Perhaps the best known American whiskey is Bourbon. It’s made up of at least 51% corn. It’s aged over several years in charred oak barrels. Depending on how charred the barrels are, the bourbon often takes on a smoky taste of varying degree. Used bourbon barrels are often recycled to recreate everything from maple syrup to scotch. Rye is produced in a similar fashion but it’s made of at least 51% rye. Rye is bit spicier and edgier to the taste than bourbon. Tennessee Whiskey is essentially bourbon. It goes through the same process but because it goes through a charcoal filtering process called the Lincoln County Process, it can only be produced in Tennessee. The taste is quite similar to bourbon.
As its name suggests, Scotch comes from Scotland and has to be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Quite often its barrels were previously used for bourbon aging or the aging of another whisky category. It’s distilled twice and has a rustic, woodsy taste. Unlike other whisky categories, Scotch has several classifications. Single malt means it was made at a single distillery and made with malted barley. Single Grain was also aged at a single distillery but incorporates other grains besides barley. Blended Malt is a blend of two or more single malt scotches that come from multiple distilleries. Blended Grain is a blend of two or more single grain scotches. Blended Scotch is blended from single malts and single grains; it’s the most common Scotch classification.
Like Scotch, Irish Whiskey must be produced in Ireland. It’s aged for at least three years and is triple distilled. Blended Irish Whiskey contains two or more whiskeys that were separately distilled. This classification makes up most of the Irish Whiskey market. Single Pot Still Whiskey is made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley at a single distillery. Irish Whiskey is smooth but nowhere near as sweet as American Whiskey.
Canadian Whisky is aged for at least three years. It’s aged in 700-liter wooden barrels. Though it’s often referred to as rye, it isn’t produced according to the American standard. So it takes on a rye flavor profile, but it contains more corn than rye.
Japanese Whisky is quite similar to Scotch. However, unlike Scotland distilleries, Japanese distilleries may produce several varieties of whisky in one location. Japanese Whisky has a similar flavor profile to Scotch.
Historically, moonshine has always referred to homemade whiskey that wasn’t aged. When you see it on the shelves at your local liquor store, it’s not illegal contraband. It’s just white whiskey-whiskey that wasn’t aged in a wooden barrel.
Whisky tasting goes so much deeper when you factor in cocktails, serving styles, and food pairings. But for starters, you can at least land on your preferred whiskey style and go from there. Cheers!