7 Whiskey Facts
everyone should know
Finding yourself in a love affair with whiskey is a lifetime engagement. And one reason is because there is just a lot to know about whiskey. So much so that distillers (and whiskey enthusiasts) often spend their whole lives learning their craft. Master blenders smell thousands of whiskeys per week, taste dozens, and spend years developing the ability to pick out aromas and tasting notes.
So much so that one particular blender’s nose is insured for nearly $3 million. But there are some foundational truths about whiskey that even beginner connoisseurs need to be aware of. That’s why we’ve laid out the 7 whiskey facts everyone should know.
#1 Whiskey is a Fairly Broad Term in the United States
Not every distilled alcoholic beverage can call itself whiskey, but it has a pretty far-reaching definition in the States. It has a broad enough designation that there are more than 40 different categories of whiskey. These different categories include bourbon, rye, single malt, and wheat whiskey.
Related: How is Bourbon Made?
Within each of those categories, there are more strict regulations. For example, American whiskey can contain artificial colors and flavors, but the subcategory of Bourbon cannot.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) gives a fairly generic legal definition:
“Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).”
Worldwide, whiskey is a little better regulated. Scotland, Ireland, and Canada all require that whiskey is aged for at least three years in wooden casks.
Whiskey Is Beer (Sorta)
This is a bit of a generalization, but it’s true that whiskey is made from fermented grain mash, just like beer. If you distill a beer that does not contain hops, you will produce whiskey.
But if you have ever tasted whiskey prior to distilling, you’ll notice it is sour, and doesn’t taste all that like beer. That’s because the fermentation method for beer and whiskey are different, leaving a completely different taste despite a very similar process.
The Top Whiskey Producer is Scotland
Scotland has been the largest producer of whiskey for over a century, despite being manufactured all over the world in places like the USA, Ireland, and even Taiwan. There are over 130 distilleries within Scotland, including the famous Johnnie Walker, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. The number of whiskey casks outnumbers their population 4:1.
But as we have covered, there are large differences in how whiskey is made, from the aging process to the mash bill. Scotland at one time only produced whiskey only from barley, but now you can find it made with wheat and rye.
Related: Best Whiskey Cocktails for Summer
The age statement for the youngest whiskey used in the mix must be included on the label. There are only five categories of Scotch – single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky, blended grain Scotch whisky, and blended Scotch whisky.
Is it Whiskey or Whisky?
There are two different spellings (whiskey vs whisky) for the spirit and both can be correct. Some believe that the spelling is determined by the region, while others think it has to do with how the alcohol was made.
The E is most commonly included in Ireland and the United States, though US brands Maker’s Mark and Old Forester both do not include it on their labels. Even the regulations in the United States refer to the spirit as whisky. For the most part, everywhere else refers to it as whisky, but only total snobs will correct you.
Here’s a bonus fun fact for you – whiskey is derived from the Gaelic word uisce, which means water.
Just to confuse you further, the plural of whiskey is whiskeys, while whisky becomes whiskies. And a note on Scotch Whisky – You may have heard that whiskey produced in Scotland is generally referred to as Scotch. That’s true if you’re in North America, but in Scotland, it’s just known as “whisky”.
Whiskey Doesn’t Go Bad
If you have found a bottle of Glenfiddich in your parent’s basement, and you’re wondering how long it’s good for, fear not – whiskey doesn’t go bad. An unopened bottle that is stored properly will not change taste. If the bottle has been opened, and particularly if more than half the bottle is missing, the oxygen within the bottle will have changed the taste in two years or less.
This makes whiskey a better investment than other alcohols, like wine, that have a set shelf life. This can come in handy when the most expensive bottle of whiskey sold for over 1 million dollars.
Aging Gives Deeper Color and Flavor
Whiskey gets its distinctive coloring from the barrels it’s aged in, assuming artificial color has not been added in. The longer the spirit is aged, the darker it will become, especially if the oak has been charred. This is also where whiskey will pick up its characteristic flavor notes, including caramel, vanilla, and spice.
Related: The 11 Health Benefits of Whiskey
A higher age is not always better, though. There are plenty of great whiskeys available at a moderate price point. If you are making a mix drink, stay away from higher aged whiskeys.
The Angel’s Share
When whiskey is aged in wooden barrels, some of the liquid unavoidably evaporates while it ages – usually 2-4% per year. This is another reason why aged whiskey tends to be more expensive. A 25 year old scotch may have lost up to 40% of its volume by the time it is ready to be enjoyed. The evaporation overall leads to a better whiskey as the burning alcohol taste mellows over time.
There is also an expression called “The Devil’s Cut” which refers to the whiskey absorbed into the barrels. Jim Beam has released a bourbon whiskey that they say has been extracted from the oak barrels, reclaiming the Devil’s Cut. The result is bitter and oak forward tasting bourbon that is probably more of a gimmick than a worthwhile whiskey.
There’s something special about learning things in regards to things you’re interested in and passionate about. How many of those whiskey facts did you already know? Which one did you find the most interesting?
Are there any whiskey facts you think I should know? If so, comment below!