What’ll It Be? | A Quick Guide to Bourbon, Scotch, and Whiskey
Whiskey is a timeless classic around the world. Almost any bar that serves alcohol will have some whiskey of one type or another. It is one of the basic liquors found in most any bar, and makes for fantastic cocktails. When ordering a drink, whiskey is usually my go-to. It is important to at least have a basic understanding of what whiskey is, and what the differences between the liquors are before spending your hard earned money on a whiskey you may or may not like.
What is Whiskey?
What exactly is whiskey? Whiskey, sometimes called whisky, is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage. Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties such as barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Whiskey is typically aged in wooden, charred white oak casks. Whiskeys can be distilled straight or blended. A straight whiskey is not mixed with any other grains or mash. If a distiller needs to mix it with anything, they can only blend with other whiskey from the same distiller and distillation period. A blended whiskey can include many different combinations of whiskey products. They could come from different distillers and different distillation periods, as well as other flavorings. Additional flavors or adjuncts affect the whiskey, such as fruit juice. Blended whiskeys generally have a lighter flavor than straight whiskeys.
Bourbon Vs Whiskey
The whiskey versus bourbon debate in the United States has been a topic of social conversations for years. In order for a whiskey to be considered bourbon, its mash has to be consisting of at least 51% corn. Some people will also tell you that in order for a whiskey to be a true bourbon, it has to be distilled in Bourbon County, TN.
In an excerpt from liquorama.net, the definition of bourbon is explained quite well:
“Bourbon, though mostly made in Kentucky, can be made anywhere in the U.S., but it must be made within the U.S. Our federal laws regulate what can and cannot be called bourbon whiskey. The requirements include: Being made from a mash bill that is at least 51% corn, Distilled to no more than 160 proof, Entered into the aging barrel at no more than 125 proof, must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and must be bottled at 80 proof or more. Bourbon, because of the corn mash, is usually sweeter than other types of whiskey, and has a full bodied feel.”
Location, Location, Location
Any whiskey that does not meet these specific requirements, cannot be called bourbon. Distillers try new things all the time, and produce fantastic whiskeys, and there is no problem with a whiskey not being a bourbon. There are plenty of delicious blended and straight whiskeys on the market. One example of a whiskey that is not bourbon, but is super popular is Jack Daniels. Jack is a Tennessee Whiskey, which in fact is very similar to Bourbon.
“Most Tennessee whiskeys meet all the requirements to be called Bourbon. The only differences between the two styles is that Tennessee Whiskey must be made in Tennessee, and it must also go through a process called the Lincoln County Process. The Lincoln Country Process is a filtering process where the whiskey is filtered through a thick layer of maple charcoal before it is put into a new charred oak barrel for aging. The distilleries that use this process claim it improves the flavor of the whiskey and creates a more mellow drinking experience.” ¹
Another distilled spirit that gets its unique title because it gets distilled and bottled in a single location, is scotch. For a whiskey to be considered scotch, the entire distilling and bottling process must be completed inside Scotland. This liquor’s ingredients consist of malted barley for the most part. Remember that its counterpart, bourbon, is made of mostly corn mash. Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years as well.
Scotch whisky is spelled without the “e” to set it apart from Irish Whiskey. The smoky flavor often associated with Scotch, comes from peat, a regional moss introduced during the distilling process. Scotch is a very flavorful form of whisky, and many will say it is an acquired taste due to the smokiness and “bite” associated with the flavor. Often times, your high end whiskeys will be Scotch. One of my favorite Scotch Whiskys to drink is, Glenlivet.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences between whiskeys, you can go to the bar and confidently choose your next glass. If you have friends who don’t know much about whiskey and cocktails, you can now help inform them before wasting money on a drink they may not like! Always remember to drink responsibly, and have fun!