What is Whisky?
Simply put it is a stronger liquor, distilled from grains and matured in oak casks for a number of years before being bottled. The base ingredients are grain, water and yeast but this only gives us part of the picture.
One has also has to look at the country of origin and the type of whisky
ORIGINS OF WHISKY
Whisky can be made anywhere in the world. Many countries, from Asia to South Africa, distill the drink o' drinks. The most important ones are called the Big Five.
The Scots make three types of whisky:
-Malt Whisky, produced in batches from malted barley, using copper pot stills. For example: The Glenlivet.
-Grain Whisky, produced from other crops, mainly maize (corn), wheat, rye and/or unmalted barley;
distillation takes place in a column shaped still, in a continuous process. For example: North British.
-Blended Whisky, a mix of malt whiskies from different distilleries and a considerable portion of grain whisky. For example: Chivas Regal. A blend only consisting of malts is called a 'vatted' or 'blended' malt.
The fresh distillate is called 'spirit' or 'new make' . By law it is ordained that the spirit has to mature at least three years in oak casks, before it may be called whiskey.
Almost 90% of all Scotch whisky is being used for blending. The Remaining 10% is bottled as 'single malt'. The term 'single' refers to the fact that the contents of the bottle are from a single distillery.
Traditionally Irish whiskey, spelled with an 'e', is being distilled from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, thus, technically spoken, a blend. For example: Jameson
When distilled only in a pot still, the product is referred to as 'pure pot still whiskey'. For example: Redbreast.
However there are also pure malt whiskey and blended versions made of other grains.
The Irish prefer triple distillation, as opposed to the Scots who use double distillation with the exception of a few distilleries. The result usually is a lighter, smoother end product.
3 The united states
American Whiskey (The Irish spelling is taken on) is being made from a mix of grains, following a special recipe called the 'mash bill'. The country recognizes three main types:
-Bourbon, mainly made in Kentucky.
For Example: Four Roses.
-Tennessee Whisky, made in Tennessee
For Example: Jack Daniel's.
-Rye Whiskey, mainly made in Kentucky.
For Example: Old Overholt.
In the USA the grains are being blended before distillation as opposed to Scotland where the whisky is blended after distillation and maturation.
A straight bourbon by definition must contain at least 51% and no more than 80% corn on the mash bill. The corn is supplemented by various combinations or rye,
wheat and malted barley.
The fresh distillate is called 'white dog' and has to mature at least two years in a new, charred cask of white American oak. Most bourbons mature at least four years and some take even longer.
Tennessee whiskey is filtered through a thick layer of sugar maple charcoal. It's called 'charcoal mellowing'.
That's why it is not a bourbon. Straight Rye Whiskey must contain at least 51% rye, with the addition of corn and malted barley.
In recent years American whiskey showed a revival, which lead to a mushrooming of micro distilleries. They concentrate on new types, for instance 100% rye whiskey and single malt whiskey (with an 'e').
Don't confuse the latter whiskies with small batch bourbon, bottled from hand-picked barrels at various bourbon distilleries.
Canadian whisky (no 'e' here) is also being distilled from various grains.
Blending happens as follows: 3-year-old rye whisky is mixed with neutral grain alcohol and subsequently matured for at least three years.
Adding a small percentage of 'fruit wines' to the whisky is allowed. Usually they taste sweetish and perfumy. For example: Crown Royale. In Nova Scotia the only single malt whisky of Canada is produced: Glen Breton.
The whisky industry in the land of the Rising Sun is not as old as the Scottish and Irish ones, the birthplaces of whisky production. The first Japanese whisky was introduced on the market in 1929, a 5-year-old Yamazaki.
Japan always had a sharp eye for the Scottish way of whisky production and still imports Scottish malts to flavor the indigenous spirit, thus creating blends.
The market share of Japanese single malts and blends is not large, but has been growing recently and won several awards already!