Whiskey – Whiskey is the term used to describe many distinctly different distillates. Besides bourbon [link] and rye [link], other major categories include Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese whisky as well as Irish and American whiskey. Other countries, including Wales, India, Germany, Australia and Sweden all make their own unique whiskies.
There are many factors that make each category of whisk(e)y unique. Main factors include the mash bill (grain mixture), number of times distilled, aging, storage and blending. Generally, all whiskies are made from barley, rye, corn, and/or wheat. Mash bills can be single malt (from one grain) or blended (most whiskies use more than one grain). For some whiskies, distillers will affect the grains before distillation. When making Scotch, malt is treated with peat smoke.
The number of times a liquor is distilled is another important variable in distinguishing whiskies. By law, Irish whiskey must be distilled three times, whereas Scotch is generally distilled twice.
Aging can be one of the most significant factors affecting the taste of whisk(e)y. Scotch is aged for at least three years in oak barrels. Bourbon must be aged in new, charred American oak barrels. Storage and the length of time a whisk(e)y ages also affects the taste. In Scotland, many distillers along the coasts expose the barrels to the environment, and the air coming off the saltwater seas affects the final product.
Most whisk(e)y is a blend of distillates with the same mash bill that come from different barrels. Blending allows a distiller to create a more consistent taste. Single barrel whiskies are taken from one cask. Single barrel whiskies can vary from bottle to bottle because each barrel produces unique qualities. With these kind of whiskies, the cask is recorded on the bottle to denote the uniqueness.
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and, furthermore, always carry a small snake.”
~ W. C. Fields