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…
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)