“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
― George Bernard Shaw.
Written by: Dustin Sepkowski.
Whisk(e)y. – Short form of Whiskybae – Gaelic origins, translated to “Water of Life.”
Def. – an alcoholic liquor distilled from a fermented mash of grain.
Just as different areas of the world have developed their own unique tastes for food, their own languages and dialects, and even their own fashion, they have also found their own ways of making Whisk(e)y. Let’s make this a history lesson, and break down this wonderful spirit to it’s various types from around the world. But first, I’m sure you’re wondering, “What’s with the “e” in parentheses?”. Well, to put it simply, as some areas of the world have developed their own taste of whisk(e)y, they have also developed their own grammatical structure of the word. The Irish like to use an “e”. The Scottish think it’s blasphemy. Mystery solved.
Scotland – Scotch Whisky
Here, we break Scotland into regions of typical characteristics found in the spirit. They’re also geographical, and can be explained better in the future. 6 major regions are all you need to remember. The Highlands, Lowlands, Campbelltown, Speyside, Islay and The Islands. There are all sorts of fun rules as to why Islay isn’t included with the Islands, and Campbelltown isn’t included with the Lowlands… But that’s for another day.
Scotch Whisky is a purists drink. 100% malted barley is not required, but is traditional in this mash. A minimum age of 3 years in oak barrels is a must, and used barrels tend to add interesting new flavours into the mix. When you have a bottle of 15 year old Highland Park Scotch, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily 15 years old. What it does mean is that the youngest spirit used in this blend is 15 years old. To obtain amazing flavours and consistency with product, in house blending is used to create a brilliant Single Malt masterpiece. If you were to use a spirit from multiple distilleries, you get what is called a “Vatted Malt” or “Blended Whisky”.
Ireland – Irish Whiskey
Irish Whiskey has similar rules to that of their close relatives in Scotland. It is a distilled spirit that is aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. Where it starts to become a different story, is that Irish Whiskey has much more relaxed rules on the labelling and composition of their whiskeys. You don’t typically see a “Single Malt” Irish Whiskey. Instead you will see a “Pure Pot Still” which can be made with a blend of single grain and single malt, or a “Pot Still” which is more likely to be a single malt.
United States of America – Bourbon Whiskey
Throw a monkeywrench in the gears. A whiskey composed mostly of adjunct? Yes, here it is. With a requirement of at least 51% corn, to be aged in 1st use charred oak barrels, and to be distilled to no more than 80%abv. Unlike it’s brothers, Bourbon does not have a minimum date for aging, but for best flavours a few years does this spirit many favours. To be called Bourbon, this spirit must be stilled, aged, and bottled within the Bourbon County of Kentucky. No exceptions. Look at the next Jack Daniels bottle you see, and look for the word Bourbon. You won’t find it, as it’s distilled in Tennessee.
Canada – Canadian Whiskey
Just when you thought the Americans were skipping traditional rules, Canada has even less. There is no real style guideline in Canada, but more of a trend. We tend to make lighter and smoother spirits than others, and only require that the spirit is mashed, stilled, and aged in Canada. There is a minimum of 3 years in oak to call this Whisky. As for the myth that Rye belongs in this product… it’s not true. Yes, it’s common as in history it was a way to add flavour to our lighter spirit. Over time, and due to demand, it became a regular occurrence to add rye to the mash to produce the popular flavour profile and body.