Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What Type Of Whiskey Gets You Going?

I thought I would take this post into a non-food direction to one of my other favorite topics of consumption, whiskey. I do drink wine more often in reference to the type of alchohol I consume, but when I am "drink," I like to go for a nice whiskey. Whiskey is a very broad range of products though and I have been asked many times about the differences between what I drink and other products.

Let's first define what whiskey is any alcohol distilled from a fermented grain mash and aged in oak casks. Countries that produce whiskey include Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Whales, The United States and even India. Some believe that Whiskey dates back to the 5th century, introduced by the Arabs, but other purists of the spirit believe the origins lay instead in Britain or Ireland. My heritage coming heavy from Ireland, I'd like to think it was Ireland. When blended whiskey is mentioned, it refers to multiple batches mixed together to get a regulated flavor in each bottle, where as single-malts have a distinctive character.

In Scotland, whiskey is called Scotch, or in Gaelic uisge-beatha. All Scotch is produced in Scotland made from whole grains which have been processed at a distillery into a mash, fermented by the addition of yeast. It must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume and must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years. It can contain no other added substance other than water and caramel colouring, and may not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume. Examples on the bar include, Cutty Sark, Dewars, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker, but they are each different styles. These listed are "blended" while single malts are an afficianado drink.

Irish whiskey is very similar to Scotch in its production. The major difference is that peat is not used in the production which proves for a very different taste. Many of the whiskeys are made from malted barely with a number distilled in pot-stills. Midleton, Bushmills, and Cooley are a few examples of Irish Whiskey, but Jameson is the one I enjoy most often with a pint of Guinness.

Japanese Whiskey is similar in style again to Scotch whiskey, this probably comes from the upscale Japanese love for Scotch. Many of the high-end Scotch houses are actually own by Japanese individuals. There are currently about ten distilleries in Japan.

Canadian whiskey, is obviously produced in Canada. It must be aged for three years before it is released for sale. Most whiskey in Canada is blended whiskey with a few exceptions which distill in the Scotch style, but they are rare and are not to be confused with the flavor of Scotch at all. Popular brands include Canadian Club, Crown Royal, Black Velvet.

In the United States, Whiskey is very distinctive as it is distilled from corn and rye. If the percentage of rye is over 51% it is referred to as a rye. If the percentage is over 51% corn, it is called bourbon. It may not be over 125 proof or 62.5 alcohol. typically about 70% — with the remainder being wheat and/or rye, and malted barley. It is aged in new charred American oak barrels for at least two years. The two years maturation process is not a legal requirement for a whiskey to be called "bourbon," but it is a legal requirement for "straight bourbon." Popular bourbons include Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Maker's Mark, Baker's Booker's, Basil Hayden, and others (Jack Daniel's is technically called a sour mash, but honestly it is still a bourbon).

Indian whiskey can be associated again with Scotch, but most of it is actually made with Molasses, which it being not made from grain means it probably is more or less Whiskey in name only. Welsh Whiskey is also very close to the nature of Scotch as well.

One of the important things to always remember with any food or drink, is to drink what you enjoy. I personally enjoy bourbon, but enjoy certain examples from each culture. Let me know what you guys like, there are so many options in each category and each has a distinct character, flavor and cultural characteristic.


Ron Gladfelter said...

I like Evan Williams.
whats your oppinion on it?

Chef Christopher Allen Tanner said...

Actually the only Evan Williams I have ever had was the regular black label and I did not like it at all. I have been told the upper level products are much better, but I have kept away because of the prior experience.

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