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Jameson Cocktail
A cocktail with Jameson Irish Whiskey.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

THALIA DEMAKES is a freelance writer.

 

 

March 2006
Updated November 2009

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cocktails & Spirits

Whiskey 101

Page 3: Whiskey Style By Country


This is Page 3 of a seven-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

 

Whiskey Types By Country

Most people base their preferences for whiskey on the particular location where their favorite bottle is distilled. Since the final product is determined by the water and the methods used to distill, store and age the whiskey, the flavor varies greatly in the different regions around the world.

Scotland

Whiskey from Scotland, typically known as Scotch, is recognized by its distinctive flavor, attributed to the barley used in place of corn in flavoring the “mash.” Regardless of whether it is referred to as Scotch, Scotch whiskey, or whisky (as as the Scots spell it—see the previous page), the product has certainly captivated a global market. Scotland has internationally protected the word Scotch; for a whiskey to be labeled as such, it must be produced in Scotland. There happen to be splendid whiskeys made by similar methods in other countries, most notably Japan; however, they cannot legally be called Scotch, and therefore are most often referred to simply as “whiskey.”

  The Glenlivet
The Glenlivet, a popular single malt Scotch, aged 21 years. Scotch can be found aged 8, 12, 16 years, with reserve bottlings aged, 18, 21, 25 years and longer.

The process begins with malted barley dried over peat fires, which gives the smoky flavor mentioned earlier. From there the barley is usually aged for at least three years. While many types of whiskey are produced in Scotland, it is the single-malt Scotches that are the most well-known and well-loved. Many believe the best Scotch whiskeys reflect the taste of the mountain heather, peat and seaweed present in the land from which it originatesSome familiar Scottish brands include Chivas Regal, Dewars, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Laphroaig and The Glenlivet.

Ireland

Although Scotch has dominated the whiskey scene, Irish whiskey is finally beginning to gain the recognition it deserves.

Irish whiskey, or Irish, is triple-distilled for extra smoothness and aged for a minimum of four years. The other key differences from Scotch whiskey:

  • The Irish traditionally mixed-grain whiskey while Scotland, while Scotland prided itself on its single malts.
  • Most Irish whiskey is made with unpeated malt, one of the reasons it is lighter than the heavier, peated Scotch whiskeys.

Irish whiskey complements the cuisine: grilled salmon, corned beef and cabbage and lamb stew. And don’t forget the Irish Coffee with dessert.

  Jameson
The longer the whiskey is aged in cask—here 18 years—the more mellow, less afterburn.

It is often suggested that beginners start with Irish to ease their way into whiskey drinking. Due to a relatively mellow yet flavorful character, it is less intimidating. In fact, Irish whiskey is so light that most people drink it straight or on the rocks. It’s also an excellent cocktail mixer in a Manhattan. Some popular brands of Irish whiskey include Bushmill’s, Connemara, Jameson and Tullamore Dew.

United States

There are six different types of whiskey made in the U.S.: American blended whiskey, Bourbon, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, Tennessee whiskey and wheat whiskey.

Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskey

Bourbon, which is produced in Kentucky and elsewhere (there’s no law requiring it to be produced in a specific location), and its neighbor, Tennessee whiskey, are distinguished in flavor from other types of whiskey, primarily due the fact that the grain mash used to make them contains more than 50% corn. The home-brewed versions—“moonshine” and “hooch”—follow a similar formula but lack the finesse of a fine product aged for four years or longer.

Both Jim Beam Black Label and Maker’s Mark are examples of classic Bourbons. The main difference between Bourbon and a Tennessee Whiskey like Jack Daniel’s is that the latter develops a sweetness as it is slowly filtered through large vats of sugar-maple charcoal. This is known as the Lincoln County Process.

Popular brands of Bourbon include Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Old Overhold, Rittenhouse and Sazerac.

Small-batch Bourbons are appearing on the market to satisfy the hunger of whiskey aficionados looking for a more sophisticated spirit. Top-rated brands include Blanton’s, George T. Stagg, Knobb Creek, Noah’s Mill and Woodford Reserve. A good Bourbon delivers sweetness from the corn as well as nuances from barrel aging and the water used.

 

Rye

  Makers Mark
Maker’s Mark Bourbon is distinct in the industry because of its red wax seal, the brainchild of co-founder Margie Samuels, who was inspired by the red wax on Cognac bottles. The bottles are hand-dipped, so no two wax seals are identical. Note the Scotch spelling of “whisky” instead of the Irish and American “whiskey.”

The United States also produces rye whiskey, as does Canada. Rye whiskey is defined as whiskey that has more than 50% rye in the mash. It is often quite assertive in flavor. Jim Beam Rye (yellow label), Michter’s, Old Overholt, Pikesville, Sazerac, Templeton, Wild Turkey and the pricey Old Potrero* are examples. Templeton is supposedly based on a recipe that was Al Capone’s favorite.

*Made with 100% malted rye grain in pot stills at San Francisco’s Anchor Distillery, there are three bottlings of Old Potrero: 18th Century Style, 19th Century Style and Hotaling’s Rye Whiskey, named for the A.P. Hotaling & Company warehouse on Jackson Street. This building, filled with whiskey, survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Good rye is a spicy, attractive drink drunk neat, smooth but not sweet. We can see Capone’s attraction. In fact, prior to Prohibition, rye was more popular than Bourbon, drunk straight (if that doesn’t appeal to you, enjoy it in a Manhattan). When Prohibition ended, for some unknown reason, American distilleries turned to Bourbon over rye—possibly because corn is less expensive than rye.

Expect a rye renaissance. Be the first on your block to buy a bottle of good rye and share it with your friends.

Canada

At the end of Prohibition, as American distillers were waiting two years for their whiskey to age to drinkability, Canada was at the ready, exporting its own rye to thirsty Americans.

Canadian whisky tends to be smoother and lighter than its counterpart in the U.S.—sweet and drinkable. It is wood-aged for a minimum of three years, often in casks previously used for Bourbon, brandy or sherry to provide extra flavor components.

Not only are Crown Royal and Seagram’s VO two of the most popular brands from Canada, but they are also two of the most popular brands overall in the industry.

  Crown Royal
THE NIBBLE editor’s first sip of whiskey as a child was Crown Royal. She didn’t like whiskey then, but loved the purple velvet bag. like the black one above. This special blend of 50 different whiskys aged in old cognac casks is very smooth. The “16″ comes from a stamp put on the casks to indicate their place of origin and authenticity. The barrels impart fruit and vanilla notes to the whisky.

Other Countries

A number of other countries—including Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand—also produce whiskey. The four nations above were presented in detail because they are best-known for whiskey production.

 

Go To Page 4: Tasting Whiskey: The Role Of The Senses

Go To The Article Index Above

 

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