Whiskey 101

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

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Scotch
Irish Whiskey
Japanese Whiskey
Taste
Spicy, smoky, peaty
Light, smooth, with a round barley flavor
Fruity, floral, honeyed
Ingredients
Mainly malted barley, fleshed out with corn or wheat over a fire of peat moss and other wetland vegetation
A blend of malted and raw barley triple-distilled in pot stills for purity. Hard-drinking bonus: That extra distilling means higher alcohol content.
A malted barley mash (a combo of milled grains and water)
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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
The earliest record of whiskey distilling in Scotland harkens back to the Exchequer Rolls—the king’s financial logs—of 1494.
In traditional Gaelic, whiskey is translated as uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.”
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).
  1. Scotch • Irish Whiskey • Japanese Whiskey
  2. Bourbon • Canadian Whiskey • Rye

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