Now there’s no way around it…most whiskey us Forevertwentysomethings Men will be drinking on a regular basis is going to burn. A good friend of mine worded it like this; You just have to breath out the dragon. Remember it, accept it, and look past it because when you accept and move on from this detail you’ll find an new world of drinks and cocktails with amazing tastes like vanilla, caramel, oak and spices open up to you. Now the types of Whisk(e)ys we’ll be covering are Bourbon, American Rye, Canadian, Scotch, and Irish.
There are so many variations of whiskey and so many rules surrounding them (From what it’s comprised of, to aging, what their aged in, etc.) that it can’t all be covered here so we’re only going to do broad strokes on this. One question I get a lot is around the spelling, Whiskey vs. Whisky, and while we can go really in depth all you need to know is this about it for practical purposes:
Canadian and Scotch – Whisky
American and Irish – Whiskey (I remember it cause America and Ireland are better than Canada and Scotland so they get the extra letter…sorry any Canadians/Scotts out there, just a way to remember)
We’ll start with American whiskey, my favorite because I’m extremely patriotic in the ways I choose to be, like 4th of July BBQ’s/Barcrawls and cheering obnoxiously during the Olympics. A lot of the American whiskies are differentiated by the amount of corn, rye, malt and wheat that are put into them…we’re only going to be covering the two largest types. For our purposes remember this: Corn is sweet, Rye is not. So as a general rule of thumb, the whiskey that has more corn will be sweeter, the whiskey with more Rye will be spicier.
Bourbon – An American whiskey that has at least 51% Corn and while it doesn’t have a minimum aging requirement, in order for it to be referred to as “Straight” it needs to be aged for at least 2 years (The “straight’ labeling is true across the board for American whiskies). Because of the higher corn content, Bourbon is sweeter than it’s other Rye counterparts and usually offers the “nicest” introduction for those who are just starting to drink American Whiskey. Note: Tennessee Whiskey (Jack Daniels), is a type of Bourbon that needs to be Straight (Aged for at least 2 years) and from Tennessee.
American Rye – As the name indicates, American Rye whiskey will have a lot of Rye. By law, it needs at least 51% of it and may have a kick that the introductory whiskey drinker may not be used to. These are what some may consider the “old-school” American whiskies and are used in a lot of classic cocktails (ie. Manhattans (My favorite), Whiskey Sours, Old Fashioneds, etc.)
*Note that there are many other variations of American whiskey…but these are the two most popular American whiskies that you will see in the stores and bars. There will also be blended whiskies, which you guessed it, can be a blend of a lot of different types…you’ll see this is in all of the categories as well (Ie. Blended Scotch Whisky, etc.).
Canadian Whisky – Now to clarify, Canadian Whisky is often referred to as “Rye” as well…but unlike America Rye it is not required to contain a minimum percentage of Rye in the total product. Just as long as Canadian Whisky is made in Canada and aged for at least 3 years, it can be considered Canadian. It’s generally considered smoother than the other counterparts out there and as such, it’s a good go to when making cocktails that call for a non-specific whisky.
Irish Whiskey – With St. Patrick’s Day only a week behind us, I’m sure Irish Whiskey was consumed liberally…as it should be. Now Irish Whiskey needs to be made in Ireland (naturally…) and is usually distilled 3 times so it’s extremely smooth (Scotch is usually distilled 2 times, and it varies with American/Canadian). If you’re going to take a shot of something, Irish is usually the way to go.
Scotch Whisky – This is the stuff your grandfather drinks that’ll put some hair on your chest. When people think whisky, this is what they usually think of. Big flavors, that can be extremely harsh and bold for some, but the bottom line is that it can be pretty intense for those not accustomed to it, although it’s precisely that about Scotch which attracts people to it. Now what makes Scotch unique (among other things) is something called peat, for simplicity sake, we can just describe this as a type of soil smoked during the process which gives Scotch that smoky flavor and aroma, it’s pretty much all you have to know about it. THAT is how you can immediately tell Scotch from something else. This is what you want enjoyed in a laid back environment…playing cards or a game of pool, or over some conversation.
That sums up most of the whiskies you’ll encounter in the drinking world (Although it expands far beyond that). And to get started I encourage you pick up a small bottle of a whiskey, add a little (or a lot) of water to open up the aromas and flavors (also to cut back on the “bite”) and just sip on it. Appreciate the flavors and the fact that it doesn’t taste like straight rubbing alcohol like Vodka does. I had a new found appreciation for it, and I hope you will too.