What is Whiskey?
Whiskey, whether spell whisky or whiskey, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the fermented mash of cereal grains. Grains such as barley, corn, rye, wheat and many others. There are many different varieties, largely separated by where they are made and what types of grains are used. Below are some popular styles.
Bourbon – The ubiquitous American whiskey. By law it must be made from at least 51% corn and aged in a new, charred barrel every time.
Rye Whiskey – The spicier and more herbaceous cousin of Bourbon. Rye must be made from at least 51% rye, but some of the most popular bottlings contain up to 95% rye or more. Like bourbon, it must also age in a new, charred barrel every time.
Irish Whiskey – Often, but not always, a blend of several styles: Single Malt, Single Grain, and Pot Still. Irish whiskey must be produced and bottled only in Ireland, and must be at least 3 years old. New and used barrels are allowed.
Scotch Whisky – Two main categories dominate the Scotch whisky market, Blended Scotch and Single Malt Scotch. Single Malt Scotch is made from 100% malted barley, distilled at least twice on a pot still, produced only in Scotland, and aged at least 3 years. Blended Scotch is a whiskey made from several distilleries, of which single malt and grain whiskies are used. New and used barrels are allowed.
Canadian Whisky – A broad category of whiskies produced, aged and bottled in Canada. They must be aged at least 3 years and often showcase the spicier rye grain. New and used barrels are allowed.
Japanese Whisky – Made in many of the same methods as Scotch whiskies. Japan produces malt and grain whiskies, with popular brands bottling both blended whiskies and single malts.
Where is whiskey made?
All over the globe! Many nations have standards for identity that protect certain styles with a geographic indication, such as Scotch and Bourbon. Whiskies made in those styles, for example, can be made elsewhere but cannot be labeled with those names.
How is whiskey made?
Like other distilled spirits, it must start with a low alcohol base before the distillation process concentrates the favors and alcohol strength. For whiskies this base is most often called “beer” or “wash.” This is made from cooking cereal grains to convert their starches into fermentable sugars. Yeast is then added and the mash of grains will sit in a fermenter for usually several days until it reaches an alcoholic strength of about 6-8% abv.
After fermentation the wash, or beer, needs to be distilled. This happens in either single batch pot stills or continuous column stills. Or both. Distillation separates the alcohol from the water in the beer solution and concentrates it to proofs often of 125 or more.
Now that high proof distilled spirit is whiskey. However, most whiskey regulations in most nations demand that it be aged for some period of time in wood vessels. It is in this step that whiskey gains its signature brown color and familiar flavors of vanilla and caramelized sugar.
How to drink Whiskey
The only correct answer is however you like. Whiskey is a versatile beverage though, and is a pleasant sipper on some ice, in classic cocktails, and modern refreshers like a high ball. For exceptionally aged single malt Scotch whiskies often just a few drops of purified water are added.
Some popular whiskey cocktails:
Which whiskey is best?
An impossible question for many whiskey aficionados to answer. After all, variety and building a collection is part of the fun of the hobby! Here are some of our favorite picks: