Undoubtedly we will be spending a lot of time on the topic of Whiskey on this blog. There is just so much to know and learn, that it is unavoidable. But don’t let that scare you, the topic of whiskey, or whisky (if you are on the British isles), is one of great joy and intrigue. There are so many variations on this spirit that I can’t possibly try and explain everything in one blog post. We won’t even attempt to get into the Scottish aqua vitae known as Scotch, which deserves a whole blog post on its own. But, i digress, for what i can do is introduce you to some of the basics…and my favorites, of course!

First things first, Whiskey is a distilled spirit that is distilled from different grains, including barley, rye, wheat, and corn. Different mixtures of these grains make up what is known as the ‘mash’.

It’s All About the Mash!!

Each type of whiskey has its own particular mash bill that must be adhered to. So let’s start with a couple of my favorites: bourbon and rye whiskey.

Bourbon, or Kentucky straight, as some call it, is a mash of at least 51% corn. Once the corn is milled at the distillery, it is added to water and heated, to begin the fermentation process. It is in the process that
enzymes break down the grain and produce alcohol as a by-product. The name Bourbon comes from the county in Kentucky where it is primarily produced. It does not, by definition, have to be produced in Kentucky, although most Kentucky-ans (is that a word?) would have you believe otherwise! In fact, neighboring Tennessee also produces a bourbon, but they call it Tennessee whiskey to differentiate it (think George Dickel or Jack Daniels). However, there are SOME stipulations to be labeled Bourbon…

Bourbon must be distilled in the United States
Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels
Bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash

There are other stipulations as well that deal with the proof of bourbon, but this is enough info for now. I should note, that in order for Bourbon to be called ‘straight’ bourbon, that means it has been aged at least 2 years. Furthermore, the aging in the charred oak barrels is what gives whiskey the color and subtle caramel notes. As a general rule, bourbon tends to be on the sweeter side of whiskeys due to the high corn content in it’s mash bill. This is important when mixing cocktails, as you may already know, for you home cocktailians.

American rye whiskey, on the other hand, must contain at least 51% rye in it’s mash bill. On a side note, there is also a Canadian rye whiskey, that may or may not contain rye. Let’s stick to the American rye since it appears the Canucks don’t have their rye right!  Besides, why call it rye whiskey if it may not even contain rye?! In any event, the other ingredients in the rye mash are usually corn and malted barley. Like it’s bourbon counterpart, rye must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and must be aged at least 2 years to be considered ‘straight’.  Interestingly enough, rye was the prevalent American whiskey in the Northeast prior to that wretched time in American history known as Prohibition.  However, it began to disappear around that time, some would argue, because bourbon was sweeter, and therefore easier to mask the alcohol.  This was important should anyone, ahem, inquire about the beverage you were drinking or selling. The main differences between rye and bourbon is the mash and the flavor profile. While bourbon is sweeter, rye tends to be drier, and has some spicier tones to it. One other interesting note…currently, at The Citizen, we are carrying Redemption brand Rye and Hi-Rye Bourbon whiskeys. The Hi-Rye Bourbon got my attention recently because it is > 30% rye and just less than 60% corn in the mash bill. This is indeed unusual for a bourbon, but I happen to really like it. You still get some sweetness of the bourbon, and also some spice notes from the rye – it’s a really nice blend.

So, there lays the groundwork for your whiskey, or whisky, wherever you may be.  A couple of cocktails to get you started…shall we??

I have mentioned the Sazerac in one of my previous posts – a quintessential rye cocktail.
So, I will throw out another cocktail that is just as much a classic, and may indeed be used with either rye or bourbon.  Here I will use rye whiskey. But next time you are down at The Citizen, ask to make one with the Hi-Rye Bourbon, for an added twist…

Old Fashioned

2 oz. Rye whiskey (Redemption Rye or Old Overholt works well)
3 dashes of aromatic bitters
2 dashes of orange bitters
1 brown sugar cube
Garnish – orange peel

Place sugar cube in empty rocks glass. Add bitters and just a dash of club soda (to help dissolve the sugar).
Muddle sugar cube until mostly dissolved.
Add 2 oz. of bourbon
Add 1 ice ball, or ice cubes
Finish cocktail with orange peel (squeeze oil from orange peel over drink)


1 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Carpano Antica (sweet vermouth)

Stir in shaker and pour over rocks in short rocks glass
Garnish with orange peel (squeeze oil from orange peel over drink)



  1. Mon 07th Mar 2011 at 2:34 pm

    The explanation I was given for the rise of Bourbon after Prohibition was that the Southern distilleries that made the Bourbon shuttered up and were able to re-open right after the repeal. The Northern Distilleries making the rye were re-purposed for the real estate was more valuable. That, and there were several distilleries in the South that stayed open making “medicinal Bourbon” (by prescription only).

  2. Chris
    Mon 07th Mar 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Frederic –

    Thanks for the info. I am curious to learn more about this “medicinal” bourbon that you speak of…


  3. Mon 07th Mar 2011 at 4:11 pm

    The rationale for the medicinal spirits:

    “Another interesting provision to prohibition was that alcohol was available via a physician’s prescription. For centuries liquor had been used for medicinal purposes, in fact many of the liqueurs we know today were first developed as miracle cures for various ailments. Despite the fact that in 1916 whiskey and brandy were removed from The Pharmacopeia of the United States of America and in 1917 the American Medical Association stated that alcohol “…use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value…” and voted in support of prohibition, there was still a belief in liquor’s medicinal benefits among many.

    Because of this established belief that liquor could cure and prevent a variety of ailments, doctors were still able to prescribe liquor to patients on a specially designed government prescription form that could be filled at any pharmacy. When medicinal whiskey stocks were low the government would increase its production. A significant amount of the prescription alcohol supplies were diverted from their intended destinations by bootleggers and corrupt individuals during prohibition.”

  4. Mon 07th Mar 2011 at 4:14 pm

    As for distilleries, Four Roses & Buffalo Trace had licenses to distill whiskey for medicinal purposes. One whiskey that could be imported and sold medicinally was Laphroaig since government officials couldn’t figure out why anyone would drink it otherwise.

  5. Chris
    Tue 08th Mar 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for the info Frederic – all very cool stuff. Is that a joke about Laphroaig?

  6. Chris
    Mon 11th Apr 2011 at 5:10 pm

    And check out this article…whiskey is not just for men!


    I’m all for it!

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