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Just What Is Whiskey? Or Is It Whisky?

Whiskey, Scotch, Rye and Bourbon

How does one tell the difference, and what does it all mean?

TheGenuineMan.com can help.

After countless hours of research, TheGenuineMan.com has come up with a complete overview of the world of whiskies.

Whiskey (as it is commonly spelt in the US and Ireland) or Whisky (as is commonly spelt in Scotland and Canada) is a distilled beverage made from a combination of grains, water and yeast. The name evolved from the Gaelic uisege beath, meaning water of life.

Scotch Whisky is the original, made in Scotland, but available all over the world. Scotch Whisky is further broken down into two varieties, grain and malt Whisky.

Grain Scotch Whisky
Grain Whisky is made by mashing wheat or corn with water. An enzyme is added to break the starch down into sugar, and then yeast is added to begin fermentation. Grain Whisky stays in a still throughout its distillation process and is then added to wooden casks to age. In the case of both Grain Scotch and Malt Scotch the casks are not new, rather they have previously been used to house either sherry or bourbon.

Grain Whisky is mainly used in the creation of blended whiskies, but can sometimes be found bottled as a Single Grain Whisky.

Malt Scotch Whisky
Malt Whisky is made with barley malt, which is dried over a peat fire. The smoke from the peat fire is where much of the taste of the final product comes from. Once dried, the malt is mixed with yeast and water and allowed to distill. Malt Scotch is usually distilled twice before being place in casks.

Both types of Scotch Whisky must remain in the barrels for a minimum of three years before being bottled and sold.

Single Malt Whisky is a Whisky that has been distilled entirely at one distillery. It may be mixed from different casks, but only of a common type. Single Cask Whisky is also available, meaning it is a Single Malt bottled from only one cask.

Blended Scotch is made from a combination of Malt and Grain Scotch, from different distilleries. Generally speaking, Blended Scotch is less expensive, and considered to be lower quality that Single Malts. Still, the overwhelming majority of Scotch produced is blended.

Irish Whiskey
Irish Whiskey is very similar to Scotch Whisky, with the exception being that Irish Whiskey is distilled three times, and no peat is used to dry the malt. This gives Irish Whiskey a lighter, sweeter flavor. It goes without saying that Irish Whiskey is brewed in Ireland.

Rye Whisky & Canadian Whisky
Rye Whisky follows the same basic procedures as Scotch, except that it is produced with a minimum of 51% of rye grain.

Canadian Whisky is often called Rye Whisky, but Canada does not legislate the amount of rye grain in the ingredient list, and as such most Canadian Whiskies are actually a blend of different types of grains.

Bourbon is an American Whisky which is made from corn rather than barley. By law, it must contain at least 51% corn, but cannot contain more than 80% corn. The remainder is made up of various other grains such as rye or wheat.

Bourbon is distilled once, and then aged in NEW, charred oak barrels. These barrels may not be reused, but they are often passed on and used in the production of Scotch. Bourbon Whiskey must be aged for two years. As with Scotch however, it is usually aged for much longer.

All Bourbons use what is called the sour mash process. This is a process in which a sample from the last batch is added to each consecutive batch to control the bacteria growth in the mixture.

Jack Daniels is probably the most commonly thought of Bourbon, but in fact is not Bourbon at all. Jack Daniels is actually a Tennessee Whiskey. Tennessee Whiskey is Bourbon which must also be filtered through a 10 foot thick layer of maple charcoal. This process gives the Whiskey a distinct and smoother flavor.

Alcohol levels and ‘Proof’
Most bottles of liquor have their alcohol content shown according to the percentage of alcohol by volume, but when discussing liquors people often make reference to the ‘proof’ of the liquor. Basically the ‘proof’ of a product, is equal to twice the percentage of alcohol by volume.

So, for example a bottle of Bourbon labeled 40% alcohol by volume has a proof of 80.