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The Basics of Whisk(e)y

Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 4:00:20 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Glencairn Whiskey Glass Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon are all grain-based spirits that can be as complex as they are rewarding and fun to learn about. Each has its own unique style but sometimes these dark potent potables are easily mistaken for one another.

Whiskey is any spirit made from distilled grain, usually barley , wheat or rye. No matter the Whiskey type, all must go through a similar process of soaking (or malting) the grain in water, fermentation, and multiple distillation to bring the spirit to a high alcohol level. From there it is often aged in oak barrels. The process sounds basic, but there is a wealth of complex decisions that the distillery makes along the way, to yield a Whiskey of a certain character.

Scotch whisky (note the lack of ā€˜eā€™) must be from Scotland and has its own set of rules for production, as laid out in the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988. It is made from a grain (malted barley, wheat or corn), yeast and water. When Scotch is made from 1 distillery it is called a single malt otherwise it is a blended Scotch. Scotch blending is an art and some blended Scotches are regarded as highly as the finest single malts. Scotch is usually aged in barrels that were previously used in the production of Sherry or Bourbon and must be in barrel for 3+ years. Common flavors found in Scotch include vanilla, cereal, toffee and tangerine. Another distinct one is peat, which is a sharp, smoky aroma. Peat is semi-carbonized vegetation that is burnt in the process to give that special smell.

Irish Whiskey is different than Scotch Whisky in that it has to be triple-distilled and some unmalted barley is added in the process. This creates more fruity aromas in the Whiskey like peach and apricot.

Bourbon is a type of Whiskey that must be made from at least 51% corn. The other grains used are typically rye, wheat and malted barley. It must be aged in charred barrels for at least two years. All Bourbon is made in the U.S, primarily from Kentucky (Bourbon, Kentucky is where its name comes from). Because of the presence of corn in the process, Bourbon yields sweeter aromatics of coconut, honey, apricot and butter. Rye has the same regulations as Bourbon, only it uses 51% rye instead of corn.

Our complete selection of Whiskey glasses is available here.

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3 Responses to “The Basics of Whisk(e)y”

  1. Single Malt is whisky made from 100% malted barley at a single distillery, using a ‘pot still’ and may be distilled 2 or (typically for lowland malts) 3 times. It may be a blend of various ages, in which case the age of the youngest component is shown.

    Grain whisky is made from other grains at by a continuous distillation process and is a relatively neutral spirit, closer in style to vodka. It is much cheaper to produce, which is why it is used in blends. Some producers sell a Single Grain whisky.

    Blended whisky is normally a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

    A blend that only contains malt whisky from multiple distilleries is correctly termed a vatted malt.

    Though some in the industry often claim that “some blended Scotches are regarded as highly as the finest single malts” it’s not generally true. The vast majority of blends are just watered down malts; whereas the high-end blends tend to be far more expensive than an equivalent quality single malt.

  2. 2 ROBYN DEROSA said:


  3. 3 thomas campion said:

    David got a little heady With his explaination, but I do agree with the fact that high end blends don’t rate the price. Being a “used to be” Scotch whisky drammer, I have since moved to bourbon whiskey. The more they advertise (usually to college students, they like to “sweetness when mixed with coke..YECH…) the higher the price. Makers Mark, Ezra Brooks, are less than half the price of Jack (I can’t say the last’s where I started) and the former are ever so much better than the latter. Not to get on a bourbon kick but I find Jim Beam black a nice whiskey but of late too over priced.
    Thanks for listening…Tom…

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