Every Man Should Know: The Wonderful World of Whiskey
Super useful and informative post by Anthony Galasso for ofironandoak.com on The Front Porch’s favorite beverage:
Mark Twain once said, “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
It’s been brought to my attention that a lot of guys out there aren’t aware of what whiskey (or as I like to call it, “writer’s blood”) actually is. This entry will serve to educate those men out there who, for some reason, just can’t put down that warm can of Coors Light. It’s time to man up and class up.
First off, tons of manly men drink whiskey. It’s the drink of choice for famous authors Ernest Hemingway and the aforementioned Mark Twain. Early American actor, Clark Gable, was famously known for his love of whiskey. Upon traveling to Africa, Winston Churchill found the water so unbearable that he improved it by mixing it with whiskey. Hell, Frank and Jesse James — America’s favorite old-timey outlaws — are even related to the Samuels family, the distillers of Maker’s Mark. Frank’s .36 caliber 1851 Navy Colt revolver is on display at their distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS WHISKEY?
Let’s keep it simple. A true whiskey is any booze distilled from some sort of fermented grain mash including malted barley, corn, rye or a combination of these grains. A true whiskey must also be distilled at a minimum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). There’s a lot of different rules and jargon involved in making the five main sub-genres of whiskey – scotch, irish whiskey, rye, bourbon and tennessee whiskey — so try to keep up, champ.
UH…SO WHAT’S SCOTCH?
All whisky’s (Yeah. Sometimes people spell whiskey differently. Get over it, and read on for further details.) must be made from a fermented grain mash, right? So, put simply, Scotch is made from malted barley. Most Scotches are made from just barley, water and yeast.
The drink must also endure a vigorous aging process. Scotch has to be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years with an ABV of less than 94.8%. The last defining character of a true Scotch is it’s origin. If it wasn’t made in Scotland, it’s not a true Scotch, sir. You follow me?
Diving even deeper into Scotch, you’re provided with the option of either single malt or blended Scotches. A single malt scotch is made from a single batch of whiskey while a blended Scotch is made from a mixture of batches.
COOL. SO WHAT’S IRISH WHISKEY THEN?
Irish Whiskey is a bit like scotch in that it has to be made with an ABV of less than 94.8% and aged for at least three years in wooden casks, although the type of wood doesn’t matter with Irish whiskey.
Fortunately, the rules pertaining to the making of Irish whiskey are less rigid, allowing for a larger variety of Irish whiskey’s. Also, similar to scotch, Irish whiskey can only be considered Irish Whiskey if it was distilled in Ireland. No shit, right?
ALRIGHT. SO HOW ABOUT RYE?!
Apparently, Canada has been distilling rye for roughly 150 years, hence Canadian whisky. (More odd spelling of the word. Read on for further details.) However, over the years, Canadians seem to have dropped the ball on distilling their rye with actual rye mash. It appears that, in Canada, the only rule to distilling rye is to have some rye mash in it. Canadian rye is sometimes distilled with 9x more corn mash than rye mash.
In America, however, rye must be made with no less than 51% rye mash. It must also be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels and distilled to an ABV less than 80%. To be considered Straight Rye, it must also be aged for a minimum of two years.
Recommended Brands: Bulleit
RYE SOUNDS GOOD! BUT WHAT ABOUT BOURBON?
Ah. My personal favorite. Bourbon is similar to rye in that it must be distilled to an ABV less than 80% and also must be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels. Also, whereas bourbon has no minimum aging restriction, it can also only be considered Straight Bourbon if it was aged for no less than two years. It also cannot include any coloring or flavoring.
The only real difference between rye and bourbon is that instead of 51% rye, bourbon must be distilled with at least 51% corn. Additionally, bourbon’s fermentation process includes a method in which the the distiller begins by mixing in some mash from an older, already fermented batch. This process is called “sour mash” and it’s bad ass.
Lastly, bourbon can only be considered bourbon if it’s made in the United States, primarily Kentucky. ‘Merica!
WELL, DAMN! BOURBON SOUNDS GREAT! BUT WHAT ABOUT TENNESSEE WHISKEY?!
Good news! Tennessee Whiskey is almost the same as Bourbon! Cheers! Jack Daniels, the main producer of Tennessee Whiskey, doesn’t want their product labeled as Bourbon because they’re the only type of whiskey that filters their product through thick maple charcoal before aging it in charred oak barrels.
Additionally, of course, Tennessee whiskey can only be considered Tennessee whiskey if it was made in Tennessee. However, other than that, Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon are the same thing!
Recommended Brand: Jack Daniels
THAT’S AWESOME! ANY OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION?!
Well, yes. The word whiskey itself is of Celtic origin, as the distilling practices originated in Ireland and Scotland. Most Scotch inspired drinks usually spell whisky differently, dropping they “e” whereas Irish and American whiskies spell it with the “e”. Apparently, according to Grammarist.com, using whiskey in reference to Scotch can get you in pretty big trouble in Scotland. So get it straight because who really wants to brawl with William Wallace from Braveheart anyway?
WOW! I WANT TO DRINK WHISKEY RIGHT NOW! BUT HOW DO I DRINK IT?!
There are many ways to drink whiskey. First off, it’s important to note that whiskey is not meant for chugging. Whiskey is intended to be leisurely sipped. This isn’t some frat party. The goal is to enjoy the varying flavor profiles of the whiskey, not blacking out and pissing your pants. Remember, you’re a sophisticated individual now.
That being said, you don’t want to pour yourself a full glass. You’ll surely hate yourself if you do. Whiskey is often measured in “fingers”. Simply hold your finger next to the glass and pour yourself a finger’s width. For instance, if you were to order two fingers of whiskey, you’d end up with roughly two adult-sized finger widths of whiskey in your glass. Simple enough? It may not look like much, but remember, whiskey is intended for sipping and enjoying, not chugging and puking. Plus, you can always pour some more when you’re finished.
As far as how to drink it, some people drink their whiskey “on the rocks” — with ice. Some people like their whiskey “neat” — plain, without ice. Other people will water their whiskey down a bit to help bring out some of the more intense flavor profiles. Ultra sophisticated folks may even mix it with other alcohols and juices, creating mixed drinks such as the classic Manhattan, which can be enjoyed “up” in a martini glass or on the rocks.
I know that I personally I enjoy a nice glass of Maker’s Mark with a single whiskey stone in my rocks glass. Whiskey stones are perfect for freezing and putting in your drink because they keep your drink somewhat cool without melting or watering down your whiskey. I know. It’s awesome. Check out these whiskey stones on ThinkGeek.com.
Bottom line though, whiskey is all a matter of preference. So put down that warm can of Coors and explore the wonderful world of whiskey by pouring yourself a glass of whichever previously described whiskey appealed to you most. Put some damn hair on your chest, man! And don’t forget to drink responsibly. There’s nothing manly about driving drunk, sir. Nope. Nothing at all.