For an American whiskey to be labeled as Bourbon it must meet the following requirements:
- Made from a mash containing between 51% and 79% corn
- Distilled at 160 proof (80% alcohol) or less
- Aged a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels (most Bourbon is aged at least four years)
- No blending is permitted and there are no additives, with the exception of water to reduce the proof
- Most Bourbons are marketed as 80-proof products, but some, particularly the newer boutique, small-batch, single barrel and barrel proof products are much higher in alcohol content.
- Popular Brands – Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Evan Williams & Wild Turkey
- Unlike Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey’s grain need only be comprised of at least 51% grain (corn most commonly used)
- Made in a similar manner to bourbon, but includes an extra step in the process. The distilled spirit is filtered through maple charcoal before aging to remove impurities.
- Popular Brands – Jack Daniel’s & George Dickel
- Made by blended Straight Whiskeys along with grain spirits
- These must contain at least 20% Straight Whiskey
- The purpose of blending is to create a balanced, light-bodied whiskey
- Very consistent in flavor
- Popular Brands – Seagram’s 7 Crown
Scotland is one of the world’s classic whisky-producing regions. It is blessed with a combination of natural resources and climate that has proven ideal for making whisky. And as Scotland’s chief export, whisky is inextricably bound to the fabric of the nation’s culture and economy.
The earliest official reference to whisky-making in Scotland appears in the Exchequer Rolls of 1494-95, although Highlanders had been operating stills for several hundred years previous. By 1644 the practice had become widespread enough for the Scottish Parliament to impose its first excise tax on whisky.
Making malt is an expensive process that involves several general steps.
- The grain used is specially selected barley that has been soaked in water
- The barley is then dried in kilns fired by peat & coal (giving it it’s smoky character)
- Each Single Malt is the product of a single distillery, from a single batch of whisky
Flavor, aroma, and finish differ widely from one Single Malt to the next. Single Malt Scotch whiskies are categorized into the following whisky-producing regions.
- Highland Single Malts
- Island Single Malts A sub-section of the Highland region
- Speyside Single Malts The northeastern coastal area of the Highland region
- Islay Single Malts
- Lowland Single Malts
- Campbeltown Single Malts
Popular Brands – Glenlivet, Macallan & Balvenie
According to Irish legend, missionary monks brought the secret of distillation to Ireland from somewhere in the Mediterranean between 1400 and 1500 years ago. These monks had discovered that by fermenting barley and water with yeast and then heating the resultant mash in a pot still, they could separate out and more importantly retain the pure alcohol. The Celtic population called this distillate “uisce beatha”, meaning “the water of life.”
Although some Scotsmen might argue the claim, Irish Whiskey officially became the world’s first whiskey when King James I granted Sir Thomas Phillips a license to distill whiskey in 1608. He then established the world’s first licensed distillery, Old Bushmills, by the river Bush in County Antrim, on the northern coast. That distillery still operates to this day, and is one of two primary locations where Irish whiskey is produced; the other is in the Midleton Distillery, County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland.
There are two main differences between Irish & Scotch Whiskies
- The Germinated grain isn’t dried over peat fires as it is in Scotland, but rather in closed kilns which eliminates the smoky, peat-like flavors
- Irish whiskey is distilled three times. No other whiskey in the world is distilled more than twice
Popular Brands – Bushmills & Jameson
As was the case in the U.S., early whisky distilling in Canada was an offshoot of farming and grain milling. Farmers and millers found it expedient to turn their bulky excess inventory into a distilled form of the grains, which were easier to store and could be sold at a handsome profit. Many of these settlers were also descendants of Scotch and Irish immigrants with long histories of distilling cereal grains, and they continued their long-standing tradition of creating “home-brewed” spirits in their new land. The historical connection to Scotland helps explain why Canadians spell whisky in the Scotch fashion, without an “e”. (When speaking of spirits from the U.S. or Ireland, the spelling “whiskey” is used.)
Canadian whisky may be distilled from a fermented mash of wheat, corn, rye and/or barley. A common misconception about Canadian whiskies, and American blended whiskies for that matter, is that they are rye whiskies. In reality however, Canadian distillers use seven times more corn than other grains. But because Canadian distillers have been allowed to develop their own methods, it is important to remember that each distiller’s recipe calls for different amounts of the individual grains with the exact proportions being kept as closely guarded secrets.
All Canadian Whisky must be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years, although most spend from six to eight years in the barrel. After aging, the whisky is dumped into huge blending vats. This is the stage at which the art of the blender is put to the test. One of the many tricks of the blender’s trade is the use of whiskies of various ages in order to produce a consistent blend from year to year. As a rule, Canadian whiskies are light-bodied, slightly pale and have a reputation for being mellow.
Popular Brands – Crown Royal, Forty Creek & Canadian Club
According to the definition of the Bureau of Alcohol, tobacco, & Firearms, vodka is a spirit without any distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. This apparent lack of character rather than being a negative, has been one of the secrets of vodka success, since it’s chameleon-like nature allows it to mix well with just about anything.
Because vodka is highly neutral, with flavoring substances largely removed during the processing, it is possible to make it from a mash of the cheapest and most readily available raw ingredients. Potatoes were traditionally employed in Russia and Poland but have largely been supplanted there in other vodka-producing countries by cereal grains. Most brands today, including the best-known imports, are made from grains – sometimes rye, wheat and barley, but principally corn.
- Vodka is purified further by use of charcoal filtering for a minimum of 8 hours
- Quality of water is an important factor in the final result. Highly treated water will not taste as good as spring fed water
- The versatility of Vodka has allowed it to be used in recipes originated for gin, rum and other spirits.
Popular Brands – Grey Goose, Ketel One, Tito’s, Smirnoff, SKYY & Svedka
Rum was first distilled on the island of Barbados in the West Indies during the mid-17th century. Conceived as a way of utilizing the excess molasses produced by sugar cane plantations, rum soon became a popular commodity throughout the Caribbean, and was an important part of the Colonial American economy.
Rum was America’s favorite drink long before bourbon was even invented. In 1775, more than 12 million gallons of rum were consumed annually in the 13 Colonies, a fairly significant amount for a population that was still under three million at the time. As a result of the Embargo Act of 1807, which made the importing of anything from England, France or their territories illegal, bourbon and rye whiskeys had supplanted rum as the settlers’ favorites.
- Distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane
- There are 2 main types of Rum
- Light-Bodied – popular in Puerto Rico
- White Rum – Aged 1 year (clear in color)
- Gold Rum – Aged 3 years with caramel added. Slightly mellower and more aromatic
- Anejo Rum – Aged at least 4 years
- Full-Bodied – Popular in Jamaica (Dark Rum)
- Made by using skimmings from previous batch called “dunder”
- The result is a very flavorful and aromatic spirit
- Traditionally requires 5 to 7 years aging
Recent spiced rums and rum-based or rum-flavored products have been gaining popularity with American consumers. Some examples are the Malibu line of rums, which contain only 21% alcohol and come in many flavors or the always-popular Captain Morgan’s Spiced & Parrot Bay rums.
Popular Brands – Cruzan, Bacardi, Flor de Cana & Appleton
The history of tequila is one that stretches back to the early years of the European conquest of Mexico and has it’s roots in the Aztec culture even though the Aztecs did not drink tequila. However, the Spaniards referred to the Aztec’s alcoholic beverage of choice as “pulque.”
Pulque was made by cutting off the flower stalk of the agave plant before it had a chance to bloom, then hollowing out the base of the plant and allowing the cavity to fill with sweet, milky plant sap. With no place to go, the juice would collect there and ferment into a sort of murky, foul-smelling wine. The conquistadores brought grapes and grains with them and in an attempt to recreate the alcoholic beverages popular in Europe. After experimenting with different types of agave, they finally produced a drinkable spirit, which they called mezcal.
Tequila is NOT Made from Cactus
Many people mistakenly believe that tequila is made from a cactus. The confusion is common because various agave species are often confused with cacti. About 125 years ago, several of the distillers around the town of Tequila in the central Mexican state of Jalisco began making a superior form of mezcal. They used the whole heart of a specific variety of agave indigenous to the region, the blue agave. Today only spirits made within the confines of this region can bear the name of tequila. If produced elsewhere, it must be called mezcal.
100% AGAVE Tequilas
- Blanco Tequila is 100% Agave and not aged in wood
- Reposado Tequila is 100% agave and aged in wood for a minimum of 6 months
- Anejo Tequila is 100% Agave and aged in wood for a minimum of 1 year
These tequilas are not 100% agave. The gold versions obtain their color through the addition of caramel to mellow the flavors versus the use of wood.
Popular Brands – Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Patron, 1800, Don Julio & Espolon
Originally created by a Dutch medical doctor looking for an inexpensive medicine in the 1600s, gin quickly caught on throughout Europe, particularly in England. Gin, essentially is a flavored spirit. Without the flavorings, it would be vodka.
At its most basic, gin is the distillate of a grain mash combined with various flavoring agents. It gets its primary flavor from juniper berries, but many other herbs and spices go into the makeup as well. Dried lemon and orange peel, cardamom, almonds, caraway seeds, angelica root, coriander, cassia bark, licorice and fennel are a few of the flavoring agents used. The English version uses 75% corn, 15% barley malt and 10% other grains for the mash. The liquid is then redistilled with the many flavoring agents. Some combine the botanicals with the spirit and distill the new mixture, while others suspend the botanicals above the spirit in the still and let the vapors pass through the many flavoring agents.
Popular Brands – Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay, New Amsterdam & Broker’s