“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren't as good as others.” ― Raymond Chandler
Whiskey and Whisky
Whiskey is a lot like the lead actor in a play or movie. It's well known and carries the reputation of what we are experiencing as an audience. It can also be timeless. Many of us are familiar with whiskey simply because our father or grandfather took a liking to it.
The spirit is generally spelled "whisky" (with no e) in Scotland and Canada and "whiskey" (with an e) in Ireland and here in the United States. It can somewhat be explained as a hopeless beer aged and distilled in oak barrels. Whiskey consists of different grains like corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Whether a specific or blend of grains exist in the spirit, is what leads to it's particular flavor profile. Historically, the grains used in particular whiskies in certain regions is due to the crop conveniently located there. For example, when settlers arrived in America, they found an abundance of rye wheat, ergo, rye whiskey was made. The same can be said for the corn found when explorers crossed the Appalachian mountains into the land now known as Kentucky, resulting in...
Bourbon is any whiskey made from at least 51% corn. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT have to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky; however, it DOES have to be made in the U.S. Almost all bourbon is made by blending different grains in many different casks. Bourbon must also be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years, with the only additive allowed being water.
Rye whiskey draws some parallels to bourbon. It also has it's own unique personality. It's made from at least 51% rye grain with a crisper, spicier taste and sharper mouth-feel than that of bourbon. However, like bourbon, it must also be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years.
Tennesse Sour Mash Whiskey
Probably the most popular Tennessee mash whiskey is Jack Daniels, so readers my be more familiar with it than any other whiskey. It's made using between 51 to 79% corn filtered through maple charcoal chunks before it's aged. This filtering is known as the Lincoln County Process.
Bottled in Bond
The Bottled in Bond Act of 1987 was made to prevent bottlers from diluting good whiskey and selling high quantity, low quality products in bottles. For a whiskey to be considered "bottled in bond," it requires it to be aged a minimum of four years, with a minimum proof of 100, from one distillery, by one distiller, for one season. These whiskeys tell you they are high proof and of good quality.
Scotch and Irish Whiskey
Scotch and Irish whiskey are primarily made from malted barley (along with the obviousness of their regional origin), as well as sometimes consisting of other grains (like corn and wheat).
Single Malt Scotch is 100% malted barley made in small pot stills with at least 2 distillation runs and produced by a single distillery. Single malt scotch is aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks. The pot still process used to make this particular scotch has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, which results in a rich and complex spirit. It also gives scotch it's unique flavor profile and personality.
Although some categorize Scotch by region, I try to categorize most Scotches as either maritime or inland. Maritime takes in the smell of the sea and has a brininess of whiskey aged close to the ocean (e.g. Islay or Orkney Scotches). Smokiness of these Scotch derive from grains dried over burning peat (accumulation of partially decayed vegetation). This is a common characteristic of Scotch from Islay Island in western Scotland. Inland typically represents a more floral spirit and is reminiscent of Scotland's great plains.
Blended malt Scotch is a blend of 100% malted barley with two or more distilleries involved.
Blended Whisky is made by combining single malts with whiskies of other grains.
Single Grain is made from 100% corn or wheat and used mainly for blending. It's produced in a column still instead of a pot still, which gives it a lighter body.
Single Malt in Ireland is much like it is in Scotland. It's 100% malted barley made in a pot still from a single distillery. So is its grain whiskey, which is typically lighter in body than the Irish single malts. These however are made in a column still using wheat and/or corn. Irish blended whiskey combines single malts and grain whiskies.
Single Pot Still Whiskey is unique to Ireland however. It's 100% malted and un-malted barley. It's made in a pot still, which are much larger than those used for Scotch whisky. This results in a milder flavor.
“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.” -Humphrey Bogart