What is Whiskey?
It is a dark distilled spirit that is made from a variety of grains, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. It is distilled throughout the world, most popularly in Ireland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Japan. There are various styles of whiskey and some countries have regulations that stipulate how it is produced. Whether it’s Irish, scotch, bourbon, or Canadian, it’s the most popular liquor in the world and it’s used in numerous cocktail and shot recipes. Surprisingly, drinkers in India consume the most, though the country’s own whiskey is rarely exported.
What Is it Made From?
The word comes from the Gaelic uisge, a shortened version of uisge beatha meaning “water of life,” also known as aqua vitae in Latin. It was originally used as a medicine, both as an internal anesthetic and an external antibiotic.
Some styles are highly regulated and others are not. Bourbon, for instance, must meet certain criteria in order to use that name on the label. In contrast, a generically labeled “blended whiskey” can be made anywhere and use any ingredients or production methods. Each style also has its own characteristics, which attracts drinkers of different tastes.
- Blended: The term refers to a blend of various whiskeys that are already aged. Typically, it is distilled from different types of grains. Canadian and Irish, as well as scotch, include blended whiskeys.
- Single Malt: This term is used to distinguish a bottle that is produced at a single distillery using a single malted grain. You can find single malts in scotch, Irish and Japanese, and from other countries.
- Irish: It is distilled in Ireland and is most often blended, though single malts are available. Typically, it is triple-distilled from unmalted barley and it must be aged for at least three years. The style is known for being smooth, light, and very drinkable.
- Scotch: Scotch includes single malts made from malted barley and blended whiskeys that include grain whiskey. The signature taste is a smokiness that is imparted by drying the malt over a peat-fueled fire. Different regions of Scotland produce single malts with individual characteristics as well.
- Bourbon: This style can only be made in America and has some of the tightest regulations. It must be made from at least 51 percent corn, distilled to no more than 160 proof, barreled no higher than 125 proof, and aged in new, charred oak barrels. The taste varies, though most bourbon has a robust flavor.
- Tennesse: Most of the same stipulations for bourbon apply to Tennessee whiskey, but it must be made within the state. It also goes through a charcoal filtering called the Lincoln County Process, which mellows it, while giving it a slight burnt wood flavor.
- Canadian: Canada is famous for blended whiskeys that are among the smoothest in the world. Rye is a favorite grain, though the blends are made from a variety of grains.
- Rye: There is no geographical designation to rye whiskey, though much of it is made in North America. Instead, it focuses on the use of rye; smaller proportions of other grains may be used as well. Rye whiskeys tend to be bold and spicy.
- Japanese: Japan learned how to make it from Scotland, so the techniques and characteristics are very similar. It tends to focus on single malts with peaty flavors and they’re considered to be very fine.
- Moonshine: Also called “white dog” or, in Ireland, potcheen, moonshine is unaged whiskey. Essentially, it’s raw whiskey straight out of the still (possibly diluted) without the mellowness, color, or extra flavors imparted by wood barrels. It was once relegated to backwoods stills and illegally-made homemade liquor, but there is a growing legal market for it today.
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