So you finally landed at the big boy’s table. Your business is doing great and your partners couldn’t be happier. So you take them out for drinks. Since this is a special night, you decide to take it up a notch. Nope, no beer for you tonight. You can have that anytime anyway. You know the perfect drink of choice for this occasion. You have seen this image far too many times in movies and on television – a guy wearing a crisp suit holding a glass of this golden brown liquor. Yes, tonight you and the boys get to be that suave guy. So you man up and order what James Bond and Don Draper would, whiskey.
But where do you start? How do you choose? Should you just wing it and go for the most expensive bottle? Before you get cut back on a few hundred bucks and make a total fool of yourself, here is safe advice – don’t act like you know it all. You are better off with trying to learn about what you don’t know anyway rather than be a pretentious know-it-all. Don’t fret though because you can always turn to your bartender for recommendations. But it is better to be equipped with the basics of this whiskey business.
WHAT IS WHISKEY?
Whiskey is distilled alcohol produced from fermented grain mash typically consisting of wheat, rye, oat, barley, and corn. Other grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and faro can be used as well. These grains are then mixed with water and undergo the processes of malting, mashing, fermentation, and distillation before it becomes alcohol. The whiskey is then matured in wooden casks for years before it is ready for bottling.
Whiskey is derived from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which means “water of life.” Japanese bestselling author Haruki Murakami once said that whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink. He certainly is not wrong for saying so!
WHISKEY vs WHISKY
The oldest written record of whiskey’s popularity dates back in 1494. Since then, whiskey has skyrocketed that there has been a longstanding history whether the spelling should be whiskey or whisky.
Nowadays, the addition of the letter E merely suggests the liquor’s country of origin. To easily remember it, major players like Scotland, Canada, and Japan spell it as whisky. The other players such as England, Australia, Finland, Germany, and India follow it too. While only Ireland and the United States spell it as whiskey.
There are many factors that determine the variant of a whiskey – water, kinds of grains used, weather, distillery location, type of cask, and age among others. Consequently, there is more than one type of whiskey. If you want to build a solid foundation, you need to remember these three – scotch, rye, and bourbon.
Scotch whisky comes from, you guessed it, Scotland. There are five regions in Scotland that produce distinct flavors od whisky – Highlands, Campbeltown, Islay, Lowlands, and Speyside. Scotch whisky comes in two types (single malt and single grain) and three blends (blended malt Scotch, blended grain Scotch, and blended Scotch).
Popular Scotch brands: Glennfiddich, Glenlivet, The Macallan
Bourbon is made up of at least 51% corn mash and has a sweet, mild flavor. It is aged in charred new oak barrels at no more than 62.5 ABV (125 proof). Although generally associated with Kentucky, it does not have to be made there to be considered bourbon.
Popular Bourbon brands: Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve
Rye, as the name suggests, it is made up of at least 51% rye. It is a popular drink in the States until the 20th century but has lost its appeal after the Prohibition. Interestingly, it is now a popular drink among the hipsters, probably because of its spicier flavor that is said to be an acquired taste.
Popular Rye brands: Sazerac, Rittenhouse Rye, Wild Turkey
HOW TO ORDER WHISKEY
There is a number of ways to enjoy whiskey. When ordering it, you have to remember these terms – neat, cut, and on the rocks.
This just means that you want your whiskey served in a glass at room temperature. Some whiskey snobs will tell you that this is the only way to drink it and that adding anything else is an utter disrespect to the spirit. Don’t listen to them. Whiskey can offer complex flavors once you know what to do with it. Feel free to find the mix that best suits your taste. But for your first sip, it would not hurt to try it neat.
You will most likely receive your whiskey either in old-fashioned or in Glencairn glass. Once you do, don’t sip it right away lest you want to gag and cough it all off. Go for the full experience. Tease your olfactory nerves by giving it a good sniff. Swirl it a few times to release the flavor. Sip it and let it sit in your mouth before swallowing it.
Drinking whisky neat, however, slowly numbs your tongue and dulls it to the true taste of the whiskey. This is where telling the bartender to ‘cut it’ comes in. Basically, he will just add a splash of water to it. This changes the chemical composition and opens up the flavor of the whiskey.
ON THE ROCKS
If you prefer a cooler drink, this is for you as on the rocks is simply whiskey with ice. But if you’ll go for this, make sure not to put too much ice cubes. Two cubes are enough. You can also opt for ice spheres since they do not dilute as fast as the cube.
Whiskey is a very versatile liquor and can be mixed with other spirits and drinks. Some of the most popular ones are Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Rusty Nail, and Old Fashioned. Feel free to ask your bartender to set you up with a whiskey-based cocktail if you are up for an adventure.
You are all set up for a great night with what just might be your new favorite drink. So go ahead and enjoy your whiskey experience.
Written by Arthur Gibbs executive content director for Kentucky Stoned.