Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Basics of Whiskey

I have been getting feedback from some of the male readers. They are requesting fewer posts about lavender eye burritos and tea towels and more posts about bikes, booze and the like. Aiming to please, I bring you today's post: The Basics of Whiskey.

If you are not a Whiskey drinker, chances are you know someone that is, and it's good to know what to buy if you have to bring a bottle of whiskey as a gift to a party. There are plenty of reasonably priced whiskeys, and the most expensive isn't always the best. The differences between Whiskey, Bourbon, Rye and Scotch have to do with where they are made, the materials used, the barrels, the climate and production techniques, distillation and various percentages of corn, rye, etc. There are entire publications dedicated to the details, here I'll just go over the basics and give a few suggestions. This is what I have learned...

Scotch Whisky: Made is Scotland. Usually has a smokey flavor. There are single malts or blended whiskys. Single malt is from product all from one distillery, while blended is whisky from multiple distilleries. Must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years and a day.
Bourbon: America's version of whiskey. Most made in Kentucky. Must contain a percentage of corn and must be stored for at least two years in charred oak barrels. Usually fuller and sweeter than Scotch and Irish Whiskey.
Irish Whiskey: Whiskey made in Ireland. Usually distilled three times while Scotch is distilled twice.
Rye: A little bitter compared to others. Usually made in Indiana, Kentucky and Iowa. Must contain 51% rye and be stored in new charred oak barrels for a least two years.

When people say 10 year, 12 year, 18 year, etc. They are referring to the number of years aged in the oak barrels.

What's up with the missing "e"? Whiskey vs. Whisky? I knew the Scotches usually spelled it without the "e" but never thought of why. Wikepedia informed me: At one time, all whisky was spelled without the extra "e", as "whisky". In around 1870, the reputation of Scottish whisky was very poor as Scottish distilleries flooded the market with cheaper spirits produced using the coffey still. The Irish and American distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey", with the extra "e", to distinguish their higher quality product. Today, the spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia, and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States.
1. Hibiki: Japanese whiskey. Really good! Aged 17 years. Beautiful bottle, great for a nice gift. Around $80.
2. Crown Royal Cast N 16: Canadian Whisky. A big step above regular crown. Really smooth and good with hints of Cognac. Around $80
3. Basil Hayden: A little more reasonably priced but still a little expensive. Bourbon. About $30-$40.
4. Wild Turkey Rare Breed: I would recommend steering clear of regular Wild Turkey but the rare breed bourbon is pretty good. Around $30.
5. High West Rendezvous Rye: Rye Whiskey. A little spicy and really good! About $50.
6. Bushmill's 1608: This anniversary addition is expensive but good! Up to $120/bottle!
7. The Macallan 10 year: Scotch Whisky. About $35 at Trader Joe's. Decent. Avoid the 12 year.
8. Yamazaki 12 year: Hard to find. About $45. Different and good.
9. Woodford Reserve: Bourbon. Found in almost any grocery store. Spicy. Under $25.
10. Bulleit: Bourbon. Cheap and good. About $20. It's becoming more popular and can be found in many stores.
11. Feckin: If you like sipping turpentine, you will like this. If not, avoid. Do not give as a gift, ever.
12. Buffalo Trace: Reasonably priced bourbon. Around $20. Sold at many grocery stores and liquor stores.

These photos are from a Whiskey Club my friends have started. Every 4 months or so we get together and each person brings a new, unique bottle of whiskey. There is usually a lot of tweed, top hats, cigars and accents. When I talk to the sales people at the liquor store while searching for a new bottle, they are amazed such a club exists and always try to get an invite.

Tomorrow, peanut butter bars.


  1. Jesus! I am most definitely packing tweed and planning my next Long Beach trip around a Whiskey Club Meeting.

  2. The WC will welcome you! Bring us some of your Tempelton Rye when you come. They don't sell it in CA! For an interesting read about whiskey, Al Capone and the little Iowa town of Templeton, to to www.templetonrye.com.