Today's Vitamin D: Whiskey

by Dane Huckelbridge


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Once a month, author Dane Huckelbridge gives us a nourishing dose of useful (for the most part) knowledge. In today's post, he tackles the intricacies of brown liquor.

Whiskey. The strong stuff. Sooner or later, it’s certain to crop up, be it at a cocktail party, a summer barbecue, or a lonely night when Tabitha tells you she met a chiseled Australian surfer/bartender named Braxley and walks out the door. But never fear. Everything you need to know about whiskey is pretty straightforward, and this post is bound to bring Tabitha begging back to my... er, your door.

First of all, the origins. The word "whiskey" comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which means “water of life.” At its essence, it’s distilled beer (brandy, on the other hand, is distilled wine), that’s aged in a barrel. Flavor differences usually come from the grains used and the way it is aged, and generally speaking, more complex well-aged spirits are appreciated neat, while younger spirits are good with ice or in cocktails. Simple, no? As for the types of whiskeys, there are really four main ones you need to know.

Bourbon

Contrary to popular belief, bourbon does not need to be made in Kentucky—it does have to be made in America, however. Its mash bill (or grain recipe) is mostly corn, and it is aged in new charred oak barrels. Bourbon is sweet, slightly smoky, and best savored neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail—Juleps, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans all fit the bill. Given its all-American status, it’s the ideal choice for a 4th of July party.

Scotch

Scotch should be from Scotland, as the name implies. It’s made from barley that’s been dried in a peat kiln, which gives it that unique smokehouse flavor (and the farther you go out into the Hebrides, the smokier it gets). Scotch is usually aged in used barrels, which gives it a lighter color and more mellow smoothness. There are scotch cocktails, but I’d suggesting taking it neat with single malts, or on the rocks with blends. You can drink it all year, but I especially like it in winter next to a roaring fire and an audio-book of How to Eat Fried WormmmMoby Dick. That’s right. Moby Dick.

Irish Whiskey

Like scotch, Irish whiskey is made from malted barley, but it’s not dried in a peat kiln. As a result, Irish whiskey is generally more sweet than smoky. I tend to think of it as a nice middle ground between bourbon and scotch, and find it very easy to drink all year round. The good stuff you can sip neat, but Irish whiskey is wonderful with ice, and also nice for doing shots with the fellas.

Rye Whiskey

This includes both American rye and Canadian whisky, and it's really just a question of grain. Know how rye bread has that certain spiciness that regular bread lacks? Same is true of the whiskey. Perhaps due to its distinctive flavor, rye is great for mixed drinks. The Sazerac is the famous one, but if you don’t feel like swirling absinthe daintily in a glass, rye can fill in for almost any whiskey drink. Throwing a little cocktail party this summer? A bottle of rye isn't a bad thing to have on hand.

Well, there you have it. Whiskey in a nutshell, or at the very least, a very concise shot glass. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear Tabitha knocking at the . . . damnit. Just the FedEx man again. Looks like I'll be cracking open another bottle of whiskey.

And %#@! you, Braxley.


Dane Huckelbridge is the author of Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit. Follow @huckelbridge for a daily dose of Vitamin D.