What better way to get started than by first explaining what the hell a whisky (no that’s not a misspelling) is. Hopefully this will give you a good base for beginning your own exploration into what you will see is a large and vast world of whisky. If not, at the very least you will have some ammo for the next happy hour with your coworkers.
First thing, whether you want to spell it Whiskey or Whisky just depends on which part of the world you are. But whisky enthusiast everywhere will be sure to tell you that it’s OK to leave the “e” at the distillery.
Now on to the fun part: the whisky itself. You will find that there are many different terms, types and ways of describing and enjoying this particular brand of alcohol. Scotland, America, Ireland, Canada and Japan are the regions most known for providing some of the best versions of Malt Whisky, which is made from malted barley, and Grain Whisky, made from various grains. Let’s look at each separately to highlight some of the similarities and differences between them.
Spirits from Scotland, better known as Scotch, are typically aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Most Scotch made today is aged in used-bourbon barrels and is typically distilled twice before being bottled. This process produces several classifications of Scotch: Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Malt, Blended Grain and Blended Scotch. Highland Park, Laphroaig and Macallan are some personal favorites.
Bourbon, Tennessee whisky, and Rye are the most associated classifications of what would be considered an American made whisky. Bourbon is aged in charred new oak barrels and contains a minimum of 51 percent corn. Tennessee whisky is much like bourbon but instead goes through an additional charcoal filtering process. Finally, Rye has to be aged in charred, new oak barrels with a minimum of 51 percent rye. Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill and Woodford Reserve distillery selections are some worth checking out.
Irish whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years and is triple distilled a majority of the time. In some instances, enzymes are added prior to fermentation to convert starches to sugars. This process produces a few classifications of Irish whisky: Blended and Single pot still. Pick up Midleton, Green Spot or Jameson for your next house warming event, and don’t forget the Glencairn whiskey glasses.
Canadian whisky isn’t unlike Rye whisky produced in America, with the major difference being that the mandate for 51 percent rye doesn’t hold true here. Much of the spirits produced use a higher percentage of corn than rye, and is aged in 700-liter wooden barrels for at least three years. Forty Creek, Crown Royal and Collingwood are some good brands produced from a similar process.
Whisky produced in Japan is one of the highly popularized whiskies of today. This rise in popularity is largely associated with Masataka Taketsuru who learned distilling techniques from his time spent in Scotland. Considering this fact, it is no surprise that most Japanese whisky have a production process similar to Scotch. Where Japan begins to differentiate itself is by producing distinct blends of whisky with various profiles. The Yamazaki Single Malt is a personal favorite, but Nikka and Hibiki are definitely worth trying out as well.
There you have it! Hopefully now you’ll feel a little more confident at the next social event and think twice the next time the bartender asks, “So what can I get you?”