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Whiskey has always been the drink of dangerous men --cowboys, poker players, backroom dealers, unsavory types -- the ultimate in Macho. Whiskey is what mom warned you about, and there has never been anything dainty about drinking the stuff. By legend, whiskey should be belted back in a quick, neck-snapping gesture, from a shot glass or straight from the bottle, by those who are tough enough to take it.

That is the whiskey myth. But in the last decade whiskey has become a fashionable, savor able beverage. The shot glass has given way to the snifter. Whiskey is now respectable.

By custom, European distillers spell their product whisky and in the US it is whiskey.

The question 'what is whiskey or bourbon?" is answered with a definition in federal law:
! Straight whiskey must be a grain mash aged at least two years in new charred white oak barrels.
! Bourbon must be a straight whiskey and be at least 51% corn and be at least 40% alcohol when bottled.
! The difference of a straight or blended product is whether it has been casked in all new barrels or a combination of new and barrels.

European Whisky

Main Grain


Irish - must be distilled and casked exclusively in Ireland Barley Non Malted, air dried, copper pot stilling
Casked minimum 3 years
Casks need not be new
Scotch -must be distilled and casked exclusively in Scotland Barley Malted, peat dried, continuous stilled,
Casked a minimum of 2 years
Casks need not be new
A Straight Bourbon Whiskey uses only new charred storage barrels   --  A Blend uses some used barrels

North American Whiskey

Main Grain


Canadiens Rye Aged in charred barrels at least two years
Bourbons - must be 51% corn and be basked only in new barrels Corn Aged in new charred white oak barrels at least two years
Rye - must be 51% rye Rye Aged in charred barrels at least two years
Corn Whiskey - Corn Filtered through sugar maple charcoal Corn Corn ( 80%with the balance rye, barley or wheat)  aged in charred white oak barrels at least two years
Tennessee Sour Mash - Minimum 51% corn and be produced in Tennessee Corn Aged at least two years in charred barrels


The variations in the flavors of whiskeys come from the ratio of corn, to other grain ratio

Brand Corn/Other Flavor
Old Grand Dad, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey 75 / 25 (rye) slightly spicier
Jim Beam 87 / 13 (rye) slightly sweeter
Makers Mark 75 / 25 (wheat) slightly grainier

The product distinctions starts with the ingredients used by each country.

Irish and Scotch whisky are both made from forms of barley; American whiskey, Bourbon and Canadian use a mix of grains; corn, rye & barley. There are also production differences including the number of distillations, type of stills, ageing period and type of barrels used.  (Single Malt Scotch)

North American Whiskeys and Bourbons

On the North American continent are two regions which produce. The area around the St. Lawrence river in Canada and in the US states, primarily Kentucky and Tennessee.

There are five traditional North American whiskeys. 
Bourbons, Rye, Canadian, Corn, & Tennessee "Sour Mash" Whiskeys

American whiskey making took off in the late 1700s, as a response to the British blockade that stopped the flow of rum, then the colonial favorite. Colonial farmers made their own distilled batches of whiskey from products they had on hand, which, in America, was corn

At the time of the American Revolution, whiskey production was booming, especially in western Pennsylvania. When Alexander Hamilton tried to impose an excise tax on whiskey in 1791, and sent in tax collectors to enforce the law, the enraged whiskey makers tarred and feathered the "revenuers" and ran them out of town on rails. It took the militia to bring order to the situation known as the Whiskey Rebellion, and many of the whiskey makers fled to Kentucky, which is now the capital of premium whiskey production in the United States.

"Bourbon" is a full-bodied, full-flavored whiskey with a touch of fruit in the bouquet. Bourbon is produced at least from 51% corn. The remaining cereal grains are rye (very spicy), wheat (very mild) and barley, which is needed for the fermentation process. An excellent Kentucky Straight Bourbon is Woodford Reserve.

"Single barrel" bourbons are meticulously chosen barrels (of product) that display the best quality of the distillery. A "small batch" bourbon is a hand-selected blend of several barrels from the total output of the distillery -- a connoisseurs blend. These are distillers' showpieces, and you can expect to pay for the quality.

"Rye Whiskey" contains a minimum of 51% rye grain. It is distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof) and is aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels. Early rye whiskeys tasted unusually spicy. As people's tastes changed over the years, rye whiskey was nearly forgotten. Today the attribute "Mild and Mellow" is the fashion. Old Overholt is a true Rye.

Canadian Regulation states: "Canadian Whisky" (Canadian Rye Whisky, Rye Whisky) shall be whisky distilled in Canada, and shall possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian Whisky.' Canadian Whisky is in fact often referred to simply as Rye Whisky or Rye. In the US, Rye Whiskey must be produced from a grain mash of which not less than 51% is rye grain. In Canada, there is no similar restriction.

Whiskeys from 100% corn are called "Corn Whiskey". With a very neutral taste pure corn whiskeys are mostly used for the creation of blends.

Lastly "Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey", Tennessee Whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% corn, be produced in Tennessee and distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof). It is filtered through a bed of sugar maple charcoal, and aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels. The filtering takes up to ten days and removes completely all solid material and fusel oils. The resulting whiskey tastes very smooth and mellow.

European whisky (Irish/Scotch) goes back further in history than bourbon -- as far the 12th century. Processes and ingredients differ, but geography is the main criteria for authenticity. In 1909, the British "Royal Commission on Whisky and other Potable Spirits" declared that only whisky wholly distilled in Scotland could be called scotch. Similar rules exist for Irish Whisky

The big difference between Scotch and Irish whisky is the distilling phase which is made twice with scotch and three times with Irish, giving Irish whisky a particular lightness

Scotch whisky first allows the barley to sprout and then it is dried. Irish whisky uses raw and malted barley while Scotch is entirely malted barley. (This is partly because there was an extra tax on malt in Ireland)

Scotch barley is dried with peat smoke which gives the usual scotch aroma to whisky. Although there is plenty of peat in Ireland, the Irish barely is dried with air (at one time coal.)

Scotch is cask aged for at least 2 years, Irish at least 3 years.

Irish whiskey is distilled three times in larger than normal copper "pot" stills. The pot stills and the extra distillation produce a uniquely delicate drink. Developing later, Scotch uses continuous process stills.

The rural poor, in Ireland, made whiskey first. The logic is whiskey developed in a bread eating culture. You grow grain, mill it for bread and save some to sow next year's crop. In good seasons when you have extra, you make whisky

The Irish invented it, but Scotland is the spiritual home of whisky. The Scottish have a saying: "There's whisky and there's guid whisky, but there's nae bad whisky." No other drink is so associated with one country.

Whisky making was established in Scotland by the 16th century. Farmers made and traded small portions with friends and merchants. When the government imposed an excise tax on the "trafficking of spirits" the farmers, or "smugglers," went underground in 1644, giving rise to stories of whisky stills hidden in churches and of Scotch shipments transported in funeral corteges.

Single Malt Scotch
Twenty years ago, it was hard to find a Scotch drinker who knew there was anything more to great whiskey than knocking back a 12-year-old blend. Today's upscale Scotch drinker sips, sniffs and savors his unblended single malt the way a wine-snob scrutinizes a glass of Bordeaux.

What do single malts offer that blends don't?    The appeal of single malts is not just that they are more intense and complex. Like fine wines, their taste reflects their origin. Single malts are divided into these geographic groupings - Highland, Lowland, and lslay.

Highly individual aromas and tastes too good to submerge in a mixed drink. Each is the straight, unblended (but aged) product of one of over a hundred distilleries, and each has its own distinctive character. Drink it the way the Scots do, cut partly with cool water to release the full aroma.

Single malts are the key components of all the world-famous brands of blended Scotch. Only a fraction of Scotland's malt whiskies are unblended -- in fact, 97% of the Scotch sold worldwide is blended. To better understand, it helps to know why they taste the way they do...

Making Malts and Blends
The process of making malt whiskey is basically the same in every distillery, yet even neighboring distilleries produce perceptibly different spirits. Why? Factors are thought to include proximity to the sea, the air, the weather, the source of barley and amount
of of peat smoke used to dry it, the strains of yeast, the character of the local water, the type of casks (primarily once-used bourbon, sometimes sherry barrels), the length of aging, the location of the warehouse. and so on. But to the distillers, even these factors may not explain everything, which is why some insist that the very dents and bumps in a copper still be reproduced if it has to be replaced.

Most of a distiller's annual production of malt whiskey is destined for blending. The average brand of blended whiskey is about one- third malt whiskey and two-thirds grain (usually corn) whiskey -- The fairly flavorless corn whiskey is combined with up to two dozen fuller-flavor malt whiskies to produce a proprietary blended brand. The precise recipes used are, understandably, kept secret.

Single malt fanciers often think that blends are inherently inferior. That's not the case. The top blends, such as Johnny Walker Blue Label or J & B Ultima, can easily knock a so-so malt right off the bar.

But the majority of blends are far milder and less complex than single malts. When you want uncomplicated drinking rather than drama in the glass, blends are lighter, softer, more delicate, less demanding.

Single malts are divided into these geographic groupings - Highland, Lowland, and lslay.
Highland malts are the most numerous. Standard-bearers-- 12-year-old Gleniivet and Macallan.
12-year-old Cragganmore  Enticingly fragrant, almost herbal
12-year-old Balvenie  Brandy-like, honied, deep-flavored
15-year-old Dalwhinnie Highly aromatic, sweetly-smooth
Glenfiddich "Special Reserve  Appetizing brisk
12-year-old Glengoyne  Delicate, dry, subtle
14-year-old Oban Smoky-rich
Talisker (produced on the island of Skye) Powerful, smoky, almost peppery whiskey
Lowland malts, of which there are only a handful, are typically light and delicate in taste.  Malt in the mild mode .
10-year-old Glenkinchie  a fine introduction to the style light, fragrant, balanced, with a trace of sweetness
10-year-old Auchentoshan  similar, almost flowery
Islay (pronounced eye-lah) malts are for those who like the flavor of their single malts underlined. The best from this inner Hebrides island are rich in smoky peatiness and have a seaweed-like tang.
10-year-old Laphroig  dark, brim, with an almost oily texture
16-year-old Lagavulin  a touch drier, but just as complex
17-year-old Bowmore smoothly deep and only hints, rather than shouts, of smoky peat.

The ideal age for a single malt differs. Most require a minimum of 8 to 10 years in a cask to show much depth of character, many are best-only after 12 to 15 years. However, it is a rare malt that retains any quality without becoming woody at the 25 year mark. The price of a very old scotch usually reflects scarcity not quality

Scots claim its criminal to serve single malts over ice. They commune with their "wee drams" in short tumblers cut by about one-third with a good spring water to bring up the aroma. But then, their idea of room temperature requires wool jackets. Adding an ice cube will be forgiven

Lighter single malts ( Lowland and younger, delicate Highland bottlings), and good blended whiskies, make the best aperitifs and pair well with spicy hors d'oeuvres, smoked salmon, and sushi. Richer, older Highland malts and lslay whiskies are ideal after dinner. Mellower malts are smooth enough to be enjoyed neat in a brandy snifter, where the warmth of a cradling hand will coax extras nuances to emerge.

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