Whiskey Blog - The Skinny on All Things Whiskey

Posted July 21 2015

Whiskey 101 from Generic Puzzles

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Generic Puzzles

Beyond the fact whiskey is Golden brown and burns when you drink it – how much do you really know about this popular liquor? Can you maneuver your way round the various differences, what makes a scotch? How does this differ from an American blend? Do you like rye? Do you like bourbon? Are you angling for a neat pour? If you’re unsure about any of the above, we’re here to help.

 

What is Whiskey?
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Whiskey is a spirit made from grain – usually with a wheat, rye or corn base. For the most part whiskey is aged in a barrel, but not always leading to a whole spectrum of whiskeys running from brown (with casks) to clear (without casks). On a basic level whiskey is for all intents a distilled beer – to turn beer to whiskey you must concentrate the beers volatile elements and age it in oak barrels until it matures – sometimes this can take several years.

Where do you start?

Admittedly, whiskey isn’t the easiest drink to embrace – it has an alcohol level that far exceeds that of wine or beer – leaving it out of the mainstream as well as being a traditional “man drink”. If you’re new to the whiskey game we recommend that you start at a lighter whiskey with a lower proof.

We recommend that you stick to a local brand: it’s always good to support your local distillery, also you are likely to get a better value whiskey on a budget. Don’t go straight for the top shelf stuff – the top level stuff is expensive, higher in alcohol with stronger flavor – and like most great things, one must develop a palette.


The major difference between a bourbon, rye and scotch?


The key difference between these two styles of whiskey is dependent on the kind of wood the cask is made from and the whiskey was matured in. Bourbon whiskey traditionally has an American oak blend – this will lead to the whiskey having a wide assortment of flavors.

Rye whiskey tends to be lighter and doesn’t need to be matured in new casks – meaning it has less woodiness. When you get into scotch whiskey the flavors that are evoked tend to be quiet pronounced – there is less flavor coming from the wood when compared to the bourbon.

Bourbon: according to U.S federal regulations bourbon must be made from 51% corn, aged in new charred, white oak barrel and bottled at 40% alcohol. Bourbon is distinguished by its sweet caramel and vanilla flavoring as well as its reddish tone.

Rye: this must be made with at least 51% rye mash and also aged in new charred oak barrels. Straight ryes are aged for at least two years – the rye grains typically spicier, fruity note.

Scotch Whiskey: Scotches are made in Scotland, most of all from malted barley and must be aged for a minimum of at least three years. Single malt scotches are made from only barley and water, and must be distilled in pots at a single distillery.


The difference between the American whiskey and a scotch whiskey


This once again realies to the cask – with a bourbon you he first instances will be off fruity flavored notes – which come from the maturing of the whiskey  - then there is a very flavorsome woodiness. If you were to do a similar test with Scotch there is more of a dominant smokiness – a Johnny walker blend for example will consist of a variety of fruit and you wouldn’t get a smoky flavor instead of a woody one.

How do you test for flavors?

Take a small drop of whiskey in the palm of your hands and then rub them until the liquid evaporates – the scents that are left behind will give you an idea of the flavors’ and ingredients that were used in making them.

What is a blend?

Blended whiskey means exactly what it says – it is a blended whiskey from multiple distilleries, different barrels and a variety of grains. Good blended whiskeys taste – like a good single malt – and are known for their reliability, as distillers can combine multiple barrels consistently across bottles. Most of the top brands are famous for their blends; Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Jameson and so on.

Single Malt: a scotch whisky refers to whisky that is made solely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery.

Blended Malt: Blended malt whisky is a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.

Blended Grain: A blend of two or more single whiskies from, differing distilleries.

Blended Scotch: A blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains.


How to drink it?

Flavors are best revealed when there’s water present. You can either add water or of course add a bit of ice termed “on the rocks”. If you are a drinker of neat whiskey, have a glass of water on the side and on your palate will help release the flavors as you sip.

Whiskey, ideally should only be served at room temperature in a tulip-shaped glass, which allows the whiskey to be swirled without spilling.

How can you tell what’s the great stuff?

What defines a great whiskey is pretty much down to personal taste. If you are unsure we recommend you stick with a premium label – Johnnie Walker for example has 200 years of heritage, with a thorough understanding of how to produce and make great whiskey. All this experience goes into every bottle they make.


What Can I Expect - Whiskeys By Region:



Scotch

The Ron Burgundy favorite. Of course, located in Scotland with a generally spicy, smoky and peaty flavor. The recipe is predominantly malted barley, fused with corn and wheat. Scotland produces an abundance of rain slicked peat land leading to 5 regions producing different flavors and notes: Highlands (dry, heavy), Lowlands (grassy), Speyside (light, fruity), Islay (smoky) and Campbeltown (salty).

Scotch requires to be matured for a minimum of 3 years, although is usually settled for 6-8 years inside white oak casks. The barrels are generally former sherry or bourbon vessels, though some innovators are using port, cognac and even beer varieties.

Irish Whiskey

Home of whisky – the world itself come from the Gaelic “uisce” – meaning the water of life.  Irish whiskey is known for its Light, smooth flavor and barley hues. A unique recipe of malted and raw barley triple-distilled in pot stills for purity and extra alcohol content. Now get this, Irish malt is a real artisanal whiskey as it is kilned (dried in a brick-lined oven) over coal, and is matured for a minimum of 3 years in recycled oak casks. Only three Irish distilleries bottle a range of brands: Old Bushmills in the North, Cooley in County Louth and Cork’s Midleton – famous for Jameson.


Japanese Whiskey

Japan actually distils, what is widely regarded as the finest whiskey in the world: the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013. Japan has a huge advantage in the whiskey distilling as they have more flavors to combine at their disposal. Japanese whiskey is noted for its fruity, floral and honeyed flavoring. The recipe consists of a malted barley mash (a combo of milled grains and water).

Japanese whiskey follows the Scotch method—the mash is dried in kilns fired with peat (though using less peat smoke) and double-distilled in large copper pots. Japan’s whiskey distilleries are scattered throughout the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, many situated in the mountain regions where there’s a good water supply.

Bourbon

American twist on classic whiskey recipes bourbon is traditionally sweet, smoky, rich usually with hints of vanilla or caramel. Federal law requires that at least 51 percent corn (most are 60 to 80 percent), as well as wheat, rye and barley. No additive coloring, flavoring or spirits.

Other whiskeys mentioned are aged in old or recycled barrels, however by law – bourbon needs brand new barrels in white American oak – where it must mature for 2 years —the charred wood infuses the spirit with caramelized sugars, giving it that signature sweetness. Bourbons are usually from farm regions and corn-heavy states like Kentucky – often cited as the birthplace of the spirit, although they can be made anywhere in the U.S.,

Jack Daniels is technically Bourbon, however it is not processed in the same charcoal filter but is distilled in Tennessee.