Whenever I’m out drinking whiskey, especially if someone mentions I run a whiskey blog, I’m flooded with questions and ‘facts’ about the world’s greatest spirit.
The common theme is how often the average joe is mistaken. This article is intended to clear up some of these misunderstandings, and set the record straight.
Whiskey and Bourbon are Different Things
Whiskey is the umbrella, generic, term for all spirits under its banner. Bourbon, Rye, Canadian, Irish, Scotch, and Sour Mash are all examples of different types of whiskey. They are all whiskey, and they are all a little different.
More reading: The Difference Between Scotch and Bourbon.
You Must Drink it Neat
This one tends to come from older men, adamant that drinking your dram any way other than neat is an outright offense to the spirit, and common sense. While you probably shouldn’t mix expensive whiskey with pop (use something cheap for that), the truth is simple:
The proper way to drink whiskey is however you enjoy drinking it.
Water in Whiskey
You will often hear people talking about adding water to whiskey. They will tell you all about how it opens up the nose and unlocks the flavor. This isn’t exactly incorrect, but it’s not really the reason why you want to add water to some whiskey.
If you take a sip of a high proof spirit you will feel your tongue ‘buzzing’. This is the alcohol anesthetizing your taste buds. If you let this continue you will essentially put your taste buds out of commission, meaning you will stop tasting the finer points your drink before you finish your glass.
Take a little sip, if you feel that buzzing feeling, add a couple drips of water (a capful), and try again. Repeat just until that buzzing stops, and you will taste the drink until the last drop. Just be sure only to use distilled/spring water. Chlorine will ruin your drink.
Older is Better
Older means more expensive, and people seem to default to believing that if it’s more expensive it must be better. This is untrue. Often older is better, but it’s not a rule by any means. The easiest example is Bowmore. Just about every serious scotch drinker will agree that the Bowmore 12 year is the best whisky they make, better than any of their older ones.
Single Malt is from a Single Cask
A single malt whisky is means what is in your bottle was made from one malt put into barrels. At the desired age they will mix just those barrels together to give you your single malt. If you mix from barrels of different malts, you have a blended whiskey.
It is possible to buy single barrel whiskey, usually as high-end offerings. These are commonly hand-numbered. So while single malt and single cask are similar, they are not the same thing.
Rye is Canadian Whiskey
In Canada they name all Canadian whisky ‘Rye’, but it’s not actually rye. Rye needs to be made from a mash (mix of grains) with at least 51% rye in the mix. Most Canadian whiskey is almost entirely wheat, with some rye in the mash.
There is some very good Canadian whisky out there, just know that you should never be using it to make any classic cocktail asking for an ounce or two of rye.
Bourbon is from Kentucky
Kentucky is the heart of the bourbon world, but as long as you follow the bottling rules, you can make bourbon anywhere in America.
Jack Daniels is not Bourbon
By strict definition, Jack Daniels is bourbon. The only reason it doesn’t say bourbon on the bottle is Jack Daniels chooses not to. The distilling process for JD involves charcoal filtering, which is not a required part of the bourbon process. For this reason they have chosen to set themselves apart as Tennessee whiskey.
Scotch is all a Smoky Mess
Only some scotch is smoky. Mainly with Islay malts (Islay being the area of Scotland) the barley is dried over a peat fire, the smoke of which getting infused into the barley malt. How smoky depends on how long the barley is left in the peat smoke.
If you have never had a smoky scotch and want to try one, I suggest starting with the Bowmore 12. It’s exceptional and is very light on the smoke flavour. For a more heavily peated option, pick up a bottle of Laphroaig, I like the triple wood, but they are all great and will leave you feeling like you’re drinking a camp fire. As soon as you open the bottle the whole room will smell your drink.