Whiskeypedia: A Dummy’s Guide To The World’s Finest Spirit

Be it scotch, bourbon or rye; there’s very little in life better than pouring yourself a double whiskey and sitting down to relax. Whiskey has nothing to not love. It has taste, distinction, stature and legacy and summons flavours we know – caramel, toffee, wheat, only to craftily showcase them in a new way.

Whiskey GIF by truTV’s At Home with Amy Sedaris

But the world of whiskey is wide and there exists many classifications, styles and origins that are hard to grasp, especially if you’re just beginning to dabble. But we got you covered! Here’s your guide to understanding whiskey that’ll ensure you know your peg the best next time you pour one.

Let’s begin with what exactly this ever-popular drink ‘whiskey’ is? Well, whiskey is any booze made from grain that’s fermented and then distilled. With some exceptions like whiskeys made from corn, it is aged in wooden casks, although the kind of barrel and aging time varies around the world. These variations in mash bill (fancy term for types of grains that go in whiskey), barrel type, aging time and distillation technique are what accounts for the enormous breadth of this beautiful spirit. But every kind has one thing in common – when it goes into the bottle; it always has at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV).

So what are these types? Don’t fret because it’s no rocket science. They are pretty self-explanatory! The major types are Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, Japanese whiskey and so on. So what do they mean? Do the names imply they belong to those countries? Yes! Then what’s the difference? Let’s me pour that in for you!

Scotch is the king of all whiskeys and is produced only in Scotland. One doesn’t drink Scotch for intoxication as the drinkers savor its potency, rich history and tradition. The Scottish highlands and lowlands, just like wine, also produce unique varieties and flavours. However if a bottle wants to earn the honour of being called a Scotch, the drink must be made from malted barley and it has to be aged for no less than three years.

Then there is the Irish whiskey which of course hails from Ireland. Just like Scotch, even Irish whiskey has to be at least three years old. Other than this, there’s no similarity between the two. Scotch is distilled twice, but most Irish whiskeys are triple distilled. Further, in Ireland, distillers add enzymes before fermenting grains to convert starches to sugars.

Coming to American whiskeys, the ones you should definitely know about are bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey. To begin with, bourbon contains a minimum of 51% corn and rye whiskey holds a minimum 51% rye. Both are aged in charred, new oak barrels. And the mandate that bourbon is kept in only new oak barrels is a key reason why used bourbon barrels end up aging Scotch. An offshoot of bourbon is the Tennessee whiskey. However, this whiskey type has to be produced in Tennessee and also meet the requirements of bourbon. Additionally, the whiskey is filtered through charcoal chips before going into casks for ageing.

If you know these four well, you pretty much know the whiskey world right. There are several sub types of these whiskeys but as a beginner to the world of whiskey, this is all that matters. Further Canadian, Japanese and Indian whiskeys are coming up now and taking the world by storm, but a Scotch, a bourbon and a Tenneessee will always remain the classics.

All this while, however, I have been referring to aged whiskey. You also must have also come across people who passionately pour you a peg from a 30 year old whiskey bottle. Now, what does that mean? Clearly the owner of the flavourful bottle didn’t buy the bottle decades back. In reality, whiskey, just like wine, tastes better with age. And when a bottle says 10 or 12 or whatever number, it means the youngest whiskey in the bottle is at least that number of years old. The bottle can also include whiskies older than the youngest one as most distilleries blend whiskies of different ages to reach that peak flavour. The only time you know that all of the whiskey in a bottle is actually that particular number of years old if it’s labeled ‘single cask’. Many big brands are coming up with vintage whiskies now because there ain’t any finer version.

There’s no wrong way to drink whiskey; you can drink this wonderful spirit neat or you can shake and stir it in to a cocktail or even pour yourself an on the rocks. Many drinkers also prefer their whiskey with Coca-Cola. The drinks behemoth recently even launched an entirely new range of products: Coca-Cola Signature Mixers- four new drinks specially designed to complement premium dark spirits, especially whiskey. After rigorous iterations and taste tests, four new flavours– smoky, spicy, herbal and woody were selected. Even though it’s available only in the UK now, the brand has collaborated with some of the world’s leading bartenders. However, if you really want to maximize flavor and experience, pour your peg in a glass container. Further, if you pick a glass that gets smaller at the top, you’ll smell, taste and savour the flavor better.

the vampire diaries drinking GIF

So the next time you are up for some whiskey tasting, you know which way to go. Irrespective of how you like your drink, your taste buds will be flattered as long as whiskey is in there.

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