The Drunken Lout’s Guide to Whiskey


July 18, 2010 (BONUS POST) — The Drunken Lout’s Guide to Whiskey

The very basic definition of whiskey — an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain mash.

Simple enough, right? Yeah. Right. But before you go slurring your words and taking some drunken swings at the deceptively complex areas of whiskey, remember this — they’re an abstract thought. You can’t PHYSICALLY clock them. But you go right ahead and try, tiger. You tha man!

Now that our more drunken compatriots have either been bounced or bludgeoned themselves in the head while going after abstract ideals, here’s some information for the rest of you! There are lots of kinds of whiskey. Let’s break e’m down.

White Dog

From here, comes whiskey. This is it. The real deal. The genesis of whiskey. The golden colors you get from aged whiskey aren’t here. White Dog is what most people consider moonshine (although, by technical definition, moonshine has to be illegal). Unaged whiskey. Those dark brown and woody hues you get from the rest of the whiskeys comes from the barrels/casks they are aged in. You don’t get that with White Dog. It also helps mellow it. This, rest assured, is not mellow at all.

This has a yeasty, almost unbaked sourdough kind of flavor and smell to it. It’s very obvious that this is coming from unaged grain mash. If you’re adventerous, it is incredibly tasty, but is most definitely not for those who are weak of constitution. It has a hot after bite to it, but an almost sweet, marshmallow taste as well. This comes straight from the still into the bottle. Complex. Good, but at 63% alcohol, it’s powerful.

Corn Whiskey

One step above the White Dog, essentially. Made from a corn mash, and only aged around 6 months or so, in new and/or uncharred barrels. This helps mellow the kick of the White Dog a little bit, but it still has a very distinct, almost bread-like whollop to it. It’s an odd base liquor for cocktails, I must say. This one I’m not super well versed in. When you think of those old school rednecks chugging booze out of the jars marked XXX, you’re probably thinking of corn whiskey. Like the White dog, this has one hell of alcohol kick.

Notice the little bit of color there.

You can get anywhere up to three years when it comes to aging, but it usually doesn’t go much longer. I’m not a huge fan of this, but it’s definitely worth a try to find out what barely-aged whiskey tastes like.

Bourbon/Kentucky Whiskey

What most people tend to think of when it comes to whiskey. These are your Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, etc. There’s a huge variety out there, some great some that will strip your stomach lining faster than turpinetine. It’s tends to be the sweetest of all the whiskeys, with a very smooth before and after taste.

You’ll notice it’s darker color as well. This is a great base liquor for drinking, and a great introduction to whiskeys. With it’s mellow and sweet flavor, it won’t offend a more delicate palate. Bourbon is when you really start getting into the solid rules delineating how you can define your whiskeys. To be considered “bourbon” is must:

• Be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.

• Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume).

• Neither coloring nor flavoring may be added.

• Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.

• Bourbon must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).

• Bourbon, like other whiskeys, may not be bottled at less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume.)

• Bourbon which meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years, may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.

• Straight Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.

• If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.

You tend to see around 5-years of age for bourbon. The older it is, the mellower it tends to be, so you’ll also tend to see the price begin to raise the older the whiskey is.

Rye

Spicier than bourbon, rye has a stronger kick wen mixed in cocktails, and is a bit more savory than your bourbons.

Notice the similar color

By law in the United States, rye whiskey is made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye. It is distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol), and aged in charred, new oak barrels. Rye whiskey that has been so aged for at least 2 years may be further designated as “straight”, as in “straight rye whiskey”. While produced similar to bourbon, it does have a stronger kick and is used in such classic cocktails as the Sazerac.

Canadian

Another one I’m not entirely as well versed in as I should be, Canadian whiskeys are (as the name implies) whiskeys that are produced in Canada. Most Canadian whiskies are blended, multi-grain liquors containing a big boost of rye. These tend resemble a lighter, and smoother bourbon. These are your Crown Royals, Seagram 7s, etc.

One of my personal favorites, Pendelton, has a very sweet, almost vanilla flavor that makes for some great cocktails. Underrated, but not unheard of.

Irish

This is a bit more crisp that bourbon or Canadian whiskey. It has interesting grain flavor usually and, like the rye, is a bit more savory than sweet. Most Irish whiskey contains alcohol continuously distilled from malted and unmalted barley and other grain. It is usually distilled three times, unlike scotch which is often distilled only twice. And, unlike scotch, it very rarely uses peat moss.

Scotch

My favorite. Lord, my favorite. Scotch comes in two different styles — blended and single malt. Smokey — that’s the best way to describe it. It can have a bit of spiciness much like rye, but not as sweet. It has a lovely woody flavor, but it can have a very unpleasant burn if not aged properly. It MUST be from Scotland (hence the name). You can get some very distinct flavors depending on the area they hail from. They are:

• Highland

• Lowland

• Speyside

• Islay

• Campbeltown

Single malt scotches tend to be much smoother, as they are pulled from the same batch and same year. You’ll tend to have much more consistency with single malts. However, because they tend to be a bit more rare, the price tends to go up. As a rule of thumb, the older the scotch, the smoother it tends to be. Blended scotches are taken from several different batches, and varying years. These tend to be a bit more affordable, but they usually aren’t as smooth as your single malts. Great to sip on neat or on the rocks, doesn’t usually make for a very good base cocktail liquor.

Japanese

I have no experience with this one, unfortunately. In wide sense, Japanese whiskey tends to be more similar to that of Scotch whisky than Irish whiskey, than your Canadian or bourbon.

Others Info

This is simply scratching the surface of the difference between these whiskeys. You have other, less popular whiskeys — Australian, Europeon, etc. However, this should serve as a good, general overview of how you can choose your whiskeys when it comes to picking the right one for your tastes, as well as the best one for the cocktail you’re cooking up in your head! Here’s hoping it was somewhat helpful!

Cheers!

— Mark

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Comments

  1. Great post! Isn’t there also some sort of rule about when Whiskey is spelled with “ey” as opposed to just “y”?

  2. Good Afternoon

    Thanks for writing this blog, loved reading it

Trackbacks

  1. […] That is truly the quick and dirty history. For more a more in-depth look at whiskies, take a look at our Drunken Lout’s Guide. […]

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