Whiskey 101

Know your Irish whiskey from bourbon: Get schooled on six types of the brown stuff.

Scotch

Taste: Spicy, smoky, peatySpicy, smoky, peaty
Ingredients: Mainly malted barley, fleshed out with corn or wheat over a fire of peat moss and other wetland vegetation
Aging: Minimum three-year stay—typically between six and eight years—in oak casks. The barrels are generally former sherry or bourbon vessels, though some innovators are using port, cognac and even beer varieties.
Region: The abundant peat of Scotland’s rain-slicked land imparts distinctive flavors. There are five regions, each with specific notes: Highlands (dry, heavy), Lowlands (grassy), Speyside (light, fruity), Islay (smoky) and Campbeltown (salty).
Booze Trivia: The earliest record of whiskey distilling in Scotland harkens back to the Exchequer Rolls—the king’s financial logs—of 1494.

Irish Whiskey

Taste: Light, smooth, with a round barley flavor
Ingredients: A blend of malted and raw barley triple-distilled in pot stills for purity. Hard-drinking bonus: That extra distilling means higher alcohol content.
Aging: Irish malt is kilned (dried in a brick-lined oven) over coal, as opposed to peat, which squelches any Scotch-like smokiness. The spirit is then matured a minimum of three years in recycled oak barrels.
Region: Only three Irish distilleries bottle a range of brands: Old Bushmills in the North, Cooley in County Louth (Kilbeggan, Greenore, Tyrconnell and Connemara) and Cork’s Midleton (Jameson, Redbreast, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Green Spot and Paddy).
Booze Trivia: In traditional Gaelic, whiskey is translated as uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.”

Japanese Whiskey

Taste: Fruity, floral, honeyed
Ingredients: A malted barley mash (a combo of milled grains and water)
Aging: 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, one batch at a time. A key difference: Japanese oak barrels produce lighter, maltier flavors.
Region: 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.
Booze Trivia: Japanese whiskey can trace its roots back to Masataka Taketsuru. He studied Scotch-making at the University of Glasgow and brought the craft to Japan in 1923, helping to establish the country’s first whiskey distillery, Yamazaki (now Suntory).

Bourbon

Taste: Sweet, smoky, rich
Ingredients: At least 51 percent corn (most are 60 to 80 percent), as well as wheat, rye and barley. No additive coloring, flavoring or spirits.
Aging: Whereas other whiskeys are aged in reused barrels, by law, bourbon must age in brand-spankin’-new white-American-oak casks for a minimum of two years—the charred wood infuses the spirit with caramelized sugars, giving it that signature sweetness.
Region: Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S., but omore than 97 percent of the 200 plus bourbons on the market come from the corn-heavy state of Kentucky, the much-heralded birthplace of the spirit.
Booze Trivia: Under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, Congress declared bourbon the “Native Spirit of America” in 1964 (LBJ was partial to the patriotic tipple).

Canadian Whiskey

Taste: Smooth, round, light
Ingredients: It’s anything-goes with Canadian whiskey—typically there’s rye in there, with corn and wheat found in high percentages as well.
Aging: Mellowed for at least three years—in bourbon, sherry or brandy casks, either new or used—with an average of four to six years in barrel.
Region: After a large influx of Scottish settlers throughout Canada in the late 18th century, Canadian whiskey (as in the U.K., our northern neighbhors tend to spell it without the e) emerged from the region’s abundant crops of rye, corn and wheat, and its lack of barley grains.
Booze Trivia: Bootlegger Al Capone helped popularize Canadian whiskey during Prohibition, purchasing upwards of 100 cases daily—smuggled through Michigan and sold in Chicago—birthing the falsehood that Canadian whiskey equals rye.

Rye

Taste: Spicy black pepper, assertive
Ingredients: 51 percent rye grain; final 49 percent comprising corn, wheat, barley, oats or rice.
Aging: Matured in charred new-oak barrels, rye is typically aged from four to eight years, although longer is a possibility.
Region: Rye whiskey can be produced anywhere in the United States, though traditionally, it was found in parts of the Eastern Seaboard, in the farming communities of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Booze Trivia: The Whiskey Rebellion broke out after an excise tax was introduced—Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s idea—but the coalition of Pennsylvania rye farmers fell apart before government troops arrived to stamp them out.

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