When you think about the differences in whiskey, think about the different kinds of bread. Wheat bread and white bread and rye bread and cornbread are all quite different, but they also have wayyy more in common than say, bread and grapes do.
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All whiskey is made from grain, usually a mix of different grains. You can use corn, various kinds of wheat, rye, barley, even sometimes more obscure grains like millet. The actual recipe of different grains used in a particular whiskey is called the ‘Mash Bill’. A whiskey might be 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% barley. (Think of a delicious multigrain bread!)
Different grains have distinct flavors. Wheat is often smooth and mellow, corn can be sweet and strong, rye is spicy and bold. Different mash bills make different tasting whiskeys.
When you talk about bourbon, you are talking about a whiskey that must be 51% corn. There is no age requirement for bourbon, but anything labeled “straight bourbon” must be aged for at least 2 years in new American oak barrels.
Tennessee whiskey has these exact requirements as well, but they add a twist: the Lincoln County Process. Tennessee whiskies must be filtered through charcoal before they are finished. Think of a giant Brita filter!
Canadian whiskey has no grain requirement, but often has a noticeable rye content. It must be distilled, aged for 3 years and bottled in Canada.
Scotch Whisky (no ‘e’!) is typically distilled from barley, though other whole grains may be used, and must be barreled for at least 3 years. The smokiness in some scotches comes from the use of smoke to dry the malted barley before distillation.
The Japanese have been making whiskey since the early 1900’s, and much of it is reminiscent of Scotch whisky in style. Masataka Taketsuru studied the are of distilling in Scotland around 1920, and opened distilleries that are renowned today. Japanese whisky is some of the most sought after whisky in the world today.
Maker’s Mark is a superb bourbon, smooth and accessible, and is credited by many bourbon distillers as the whiskey that opened up the bourbon market to the greater public. Maker’s is a ‘wheated bourbon’, meaning that the mash bill is finished with a good amount of wheat. It creates a smooth, easy drinking bourbon that has a lot of flavor but very little aftertaste.
GEORGE DICKEL RYE
George Dickel Rye is almost completely rye based, with a small amount of barley in the mix. It is a slightly higher proof whiskey, and has a spicy and bold flavor that stand out well in cocktails.
Nikki Taketsuru is a fantastic example of fine Japanese whisky. It is smooth, with an excellent nose and light hints of smoke among fruit and spice notes. It is a blended whisky. The Japanese revere their master blenders, as they see many single malt whiskies to be ‘incomplete’.
Other ryes: Templeton, High West, Whistlepig
Bourbons: Four Roses, Basil Hayden
Scotch: Glenfiddich, Johnny Walker, Ardbeg
Canadian: Crown Royal
Japanese: Suntory, Yamasaki, Nikka
Creative Director of Sourced Craft Cocktails