June 2, 2015

Whiskey 101: Things All Whiskey Drinkers Should Know

Things All Whiskey Drinkers Should KnowWhiskey is an alcoholic beverage that’s distilled from fermented grains. However, over the years with advanced technology, manufacturer’s  have been able to be a bit more creative with the brewing process then they were 500 years ago. Now brewer’s have more control over the the malts, grains, harvest, production and blending. All of these different techniques have led to different variations of whiskeys and the ability to enjoy different  unique flavors and combinations. If you’re new to the world of whiskey, check out this article on things all whiskey drinkers should know.

What Is Whiskey?

whatiswhiskeywhat is whiskeyWhiskey is defined as a fermented grain that’s distilled in wooden  casks (most commonly oak).  Whiskey basically starts out as beer.The same barley and malts have the sugars needed for the fermentation process. When beer is made, hops are added and this helps preserve the beers flavor. To make whiskey from beer, it must be distilled. The whiskey is put into large copper stills, they have a wide bowl and the bottom with a narrow neck. This distillation process is long and often is done twice or even three times. Different shape and sizes of stills can have an impact on the flavor of the final product. After the whiskey is distilled, it’s put into casks so it can mature.

During maturation, the flavors of the spirit combine with natural compounds in the wood cask and this gives the whiskey its own characteristic flavor and aroma. Other things can play a part in the final product, such as the condition of the warehouse, and even the air. For example if a warehouse is located close to the sea, the salty air can have an impact on the final outcome of the whiskey.

There are various styles and alcohol levels to whiskey. If you’re not familiar with what you’re drinking, you may be intimated and now know where to start. It’s best to ease into tasting whiskey so you can get familiar with the spirit and find something that suits you. Don’t jump the gun and try something that’s too mature for your palate because you may deter your option.

 

What Is Whiskey?

whatiswhiskeyWhiskey is defined as a fermented grain that’s distilled in wooden  casks (most commonly oak).  Whiskey basically starts out as beer.The same barley and malts have the sugars needed for the fermentation process. When beer is made, hops are added and this helps preserve the beers flavor. To make whiskey from beer, it must be distilled. The whiskey is put into large copper stills, they have a wide bowl and the bottom with a narrow neck. This distillation process is long and often is done twice or even three times. Different shape and sizes of stills can have an impact on the flavor of the final product. After the whiskey is distilled, it’s put into casks so it can mature.

During maturation, the flavors of the spirit combine with natural compounds in the wood cask and this gives the whiskey its own characteristic flavor and aroma. Other things can play a part in the final product, such as the condition of the warehouse, and even the air. For example if a warehouse is located close to the sea, the salty air can have an impact on the final outcome of the whiskey.

There are various styles and alcohol levels to whiskey. If you’re not familiar with what you’re drinking, you may be intimated and now know where to start. It’s best to ease into tasting whiskey so you can get familiar with the spirit and find something that suits you. Don’t jump the gun and try something that’s too mature for your palate because you may deter your option.

"For beginners, a good suggestion would to be choose a style of whiskey and then try various kinds within that style"

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Types Of Whiskey

types of whiskeytypes of whiskeyThere are many kinds of whiskey For beginners, a good suggestion would be to choose a style of whiskey and then try various kinds within that style. From there you can broaden your horizons and try different and more intense styles. Below is a brief overview of different kinds of whiskies.

Malt Whiskey

A malt whiskey is primarily made from a fermented mash product, most commonly a malted barely grain.

Grain Whiskey

A grain whiskey is made with another kind of grain other than barely. For example, there are corn, wheat, and rye grains used in making whisky. Using these other ingredients often identifies the end product. A whiskey using rye is referred to as “rye malt whiskey”.

Single Malt Whiskey

A single malt whiskey is when only whiskies from the same distilleries are blended together. This means that whiskies from different barrels or batches can be combined together as long as they are from the same distillery. Mixing whiskies from other casks can help create substantial flavor in the whiskey.

Single Cask Whiskey

As you may have guessed…single cask whiskey is whiskey that’s bottled from the same cask and not mixed with any other kind of whiskies. Often after the bottling process each whiskey bottle has information on the cask in which it came from.

American Whiskey

American whiskey comes is a few different varieties. Rye whiskey (made from the mash that consists of at least 51% rye), Corn whiskey (at least 80% corn mash), Malt whiskey (at least 51% malted barley) and Bourbon whiskey (at least 51% corn maize). American whiskies are said to taste a bit sweeter. Flavors such as maple, vanilla and spice are due to the charred oak barrels.

Scotch Whiskey

Scotch whiskey can only be given to whiskey distilled in Scotland. The laws in Scotland require whiskey  to be aged in casks for a minimum of 3 years. Many Scottish whiskies are distilled twice and sometimes even more than that. Brewers often treat the malt with peat smoke, this leaves the end product with a smokey, peat flavor.

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is distilled in Ireland and also needs 3 years to age. Irish whiskies are highly respected. They are said to be a lighter bodied whiskey.

There are other kinds of whiskey from other parts of the world such as England, German, even India. However, these are the post popular and most basic types of whiskey.

How To Drink Whiskey

When tasting whiskey, it’s best to start off with single malts. This will help you become knowledgable with what you’re tasting and develop your own style and preference. Taste is something that’s personal, there is no right or wrong description of what flavors a persons tastes from whiskey. There are a few helpful tips to help you enjoy a whiskey and guide to having the best tasting experience.

There are many different kinds of glasses used for drinking. Cocktail glasses differ from other types of glasses you would use to taste a spirit. The size and share of the glass can affect the aroma and the flavor of the whiskey. It’s best to use a glass that has a  a bowl like bottom and a narrow opening.

Types Of Whiskey Glasses


tulip glassTulip –
A tulip glass starts out wide at the bottom and gets narrower as the the glass goes up. At the narrowest part of the glass, it flares outward. These glasses are used to get the full aroma and taste of a single malt whiskey.

snifter glass
snifter glassSnifter
– A more commonly used glass. A snifter is similar to a tulip glass but has a wider bowl and although the top of the glass is narrow, it’s not fluted like the tulip glass. The wider bowl helps collect the aroma and direct out of the narrow top and into your nose.

tumbler glasstumbler glass
tumbler glassTumbler
– A tumbler glass is a short glass that has straight sides. It doesn’t have a stem for swirling and doesn’t have a narrow top. This glass is usually used when drinking whiskey on the rocks, or having a mixed drink.

Pour a small amount of whiskey into your glass and swirl it around. The whiskey needs time to breathe. This is a tasting technique similar to wine. Until you pour the whiskey into a glass, it’s spent all of its life in a cask and then a bottle. It needs time to open up. The narrow opening will allow of the whiskey’s aroma to flow right to your nose. Your initial scent may be of just alcohol, but smell the whiskey a few time before tasting.Once you have an idea of what flavors you’re smelling you’ll be able to better predict what the whiskey will taste like.

how to drink whiskeyWhen you’re ready to have a sip of your whiskey, don’t drink it too fast. Good whiskies are meant to be savored. If you’re trying to identify the flavors of the whiskey it’s best to take a sip and then slowly allow the whiskey to pass through all parts of your tongue. With each sip, try and identify a new taste. The finish is the taste that’s left after you’ve swallowed the whiskey. Some people say this is what differentiates whiskies. Once you’ve swallowed your sip, try and notice which flavors are left. You can also pay attention to how long those flavors linger in your mouth before you try another taste.

There’s often a debate on how to drink a whiskey. Some people prefer to drink whiskey “neat” and out of a snifter like glass. This means that the whiskey is at room temperate without anything diluting it. This is said to be the “purest” way to taste a whiskey. However, it’s also said not to be the best. A good whiskey should be drunk with a little water added. It will allow for those aromas to open up. Also, your initial taste of whiskey maybe just alcohol. If you add a little of distilled water (so chlorine doesn’t affect the spirit) it’ll help with that burning sensation. Add enough water to make that sensation disappear and you’ll be able to truly taste the whiskey and enjoy it.

Many people drink whiskey on the rocks. This consists of adding ice cubes to a tumbler glass. The argument on this style of whiskey drinking is that the ice is usually made from tap water. Tap water contains chlorine which will alter the taste of the whiskey. Also, if you leave the ice cubes in the drink the whole time, the cubes will melt and drastically dilute the whiskey. There are a few solutions to this problem. Keep a glass of ice cubes and a spoon near by so you can add or remove ice cubes as you wish. This will allow you to have a chilled drink without diluting the spirit all together, or you can invest in those nifty whiskey stones. These are stones that you keep in the freezer and use them in place of ice cubes in your drink. This allows you to enjoy a cool drink without diluting it.

"Good whiskies are meant to be savored."

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Top 5 Whiskeys On A Budget

If you don’t know if premium whiskey is worth the pretty penny, then refer to the common saying “you get what you pay for”. Premium whiskies earn their price tag by using quality ingredients. The more expensive whiskies are made with the best malt, barley and grains and are typically aged longer. Any alcohol made with quality ingredients is going to be better than those made with poor quality or synthetic ingredients.

If you’re a whiskey drinker and truly appreciate the spirit for it’s flavor, then you may want spend the extra few dollars on a quality bottle of whiskey. If you’re looking to savor the taste and learn more about whiskies, then those cheap bottles you’d find in a college dorm room party are off the table. However, don’t fret if dropping hundreds of dollars on alcohol isn’t in your budget (it’s not in our budget either), we’ve complied a list of whiskies that have a good quality taste, but don’t break the bank.

Buffalo TraceBuffalo Trace
Price: $20 – $25

A not  a very intense or complex bourbon, but it has a sweet and balanced taste. Filled with brown sugar and hints of vanilla, this is a solid purchase.

Four-Roses-Yellow-LabelFour-Roses-Yellow-LabelFour Roses Yellow LabelFour-Roses-Yellow-Label

Price: $20

The history of Four Roses is pretty unique. At one time this was a top selling bourbon in America. After a some bad batches and a poor reputation, it was Japan who saved the bourbon. Taking the time to buy and destroy all of the Four Roses bottles left in America, they started fresh and started to release the new and very much improved Four Roses Bourbon. This is a soft bourbon with floral notes. All together, this bourbon is a steal!

evan-williamsevan-williams
evan williams black label Evan Williams Black Label
 
Price: $14 – $25

This seems to be a “budget friendly” favorite  It’s on most lists I’ve seen for whiskies at a reasonable price. It’s a good whiskey for sipping because you don’t get a strong alcohol flavor. It’s also cheap enough where you can add it to a mixed drink and not feel bad about it. It has a nice balance of smokey and sweet.

devils_cut_bottleJim Beam Devil’s Cutdevils_cut_bottle
Price: $20- $25

For the price, you’re getting a fairly complex whisky. This bourbon has some deep flavors. Filled with a smokey and woody aroma, Devil’s Cut has a wood and caramel flavor. It also has a nutty component of molasses, toffee, toasted nut. Although it’s not very well balanced (the wood is a bit over powering) it’s great whiskey for your budget.

Knob Creekknob_creek
Price $30 – $35

Jim Beam makes the list again, but who can resist when they produce quality whiskey? This bottle is more pricy than the others, but it’s worth it’s costs. Knob Creek is a more traditional style and aged whiskey. It’s a dry whiskey with oak, vanilla, caramel and rye. Some people say it has a salty buttery finish.

There are a wide variety of whiskies on the market today. If you’re new to the world of whiskey it’s wise to digest all of this information and start with the basics. Don’t start with an intense whiskey that’s too mature for your palette. Start with something light and smooth to ease your taste buds into it. You may want to try and stick with one style of whiskey to learn what you like about it, and then advance once you’ve detected the things you like. Try giving these whiskey tasting suggestions a try the next time you crack open a bottle of your favorite whiskey.

 

Are You A Whiskey Connoisseur? What Kinds Of Whiskies Do You Enjoy?

If you’re a whiskey drinker, let us know what you like to indulge in. If you’re new to the whiskey scene what else would you like to know about whiskey?

Danielle Cherrick

Danielle loves a good glass of wine. She enjoys exploring various kinds of spirits and learning more about what she's drinking so she can enhance her palate and tasting skills.

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