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Whiskey Cocktails

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What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey is such a familiar beverage it almost seems silly to ask the question posed by the title. But, despite its centuries long presence in our world, there is still much about this golden beverage that's not widely known.

Though some of the expertise goes back thousands of years, the knowledge for making whiskey is much more recent. These spirits made from barley, rye or corn have much in common with beer, which was made as far back as the ancient Egyptians. But whiskey is distilled, not fermented, and that practice only began in the Middle Ages, probably by monks in Ireland or Scotland. Some experts put the beginning of whiskey at the early 15th century, others near the end.

Interestingly, though technology in many areas has improved dramatically, the basic process is still much the same today. Distillers of the 16th century would recognize and probably know how to use most of the equipment of the modern era without difficulty.

Though different grains can be used, barley is one of the most common. The seed is soaked for a couple of days until it germinates, then baked in a kiln to halt the process. Enzymes in the germination process produce sugars that are then turned into alcohol, similar to the beermaking process.

But fermentation of the type used to make beer will only produce ABV (alcohol by volume) concentrations of about 15% maximum. Distillation is the key to making whiskeys of 70, 80 or more proof. 'Proof' is double the alcohol content.

Scotch whisky, or simply Scotch (the Irish distillers in Dublin are alleged to have added the 'e' later to distinguish their product), is a variation on the basic brew. The chief difference is the burning of peat to dry the barley, which imparts much of the distinctive flavor of this northern drink.

From there, the process can take any number of different routes. The choice made dictates whether the end result will be a 'Single Malt', or a 'Blend', or some other variation. A single malt is the product of one distillery, using exclusively malted barley. A blended malt combines the product of several distilleries to achieve a liquor unique to every brand. A 'grain whiskey' is produced by using rye, corn or other grain mixed with the barley.

But that is only the beginning of what goes into making a fine whiskey.

The clear liquid that is now about 70% alcohol is poured into large oak casks called barrels. By law, it has to mature for at least three years to earn the name 'whiskey'. But most good whiskey, and all good scotch, will have matured for at least 10 years before being bottled. Unlike wines, whiskeys don't age further in the bottle. The scotch casks themselves are specially prepared, usually by having been already used to make bourbon or sherry.

The aging process is also hundreds of years old, and the product the result of recipes handed down or developed over that period. But, the fine spirit produced is enjoyed in much the same way as it was then: slowly and with relish.

Blended American Whiskey Brands

Calverts Extra
Seagram's 7

Bourbon Brands

Early Times
Jack Daniel's
Jim Beam
Knob Creek
Maker's Mark
Old Crow
Old Charter
Old Taylor
Old Grandad
Old Forester
Virginia Gentleman
Walkers Deluxe
Wild Turkey

Irish Whiskey


Canadian Whisky

Black Velvet
Canadian Mist
Canadian Club
Canadian LTD
Lord Calvert Mac
Naughton's Seagram's
Crown Royal
VO Windsor

Scotch Whisky

Black and White
Chivas Regal
Cutty Sark
Inver House
Johnnie Walker
101 Pipers


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