Bourbon, rye, single-malt, Scotch — with so many brown spirits out there it’s hard to keep them all straight. Although I’ve attended countless whiskey tastings, I’ve always been a little confused by this category of liquor. Until last night! At an event geared specifically towards women, called Women & Whiskies, I finally got an easy to understand breakdown of the whiskies of the world.
The term whiskey should be thought of like the word wine. It’s a blanket name that refers to all brown spirits made from a mash of fermented grains. Underneath this term, there’s lots of different variations (like wine) that depend on region, malting style, distillation, and the types of grain used.
The percentage of grains used to make the whiskey is the determining factor in the whiskey’s name. For example, bourbon is whiskey that’s made from at least 51% corn and is always aged in a new American oak barrel. Rye is whiskey that’s made from at least 51% rye. Scotch, also known as whisky, refers to only the alcohol that’s produced in Scotland. A single-malt Scotch is whisky that’s made from only one grain, malted barley.
The flavor of the whiskey is not only affected by the various kinds of grain used, but also the wood in which it’s aged, the maturation time, and even the weather of the area in which it’s produced.
Another interesting fact: adding ice to whiskey dilutes its flavor, but adding water to whiskey enhances it.