When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Whiskey Sours…

By Roxana Garciga

Sláinte! may well be something uttered between Irish (some would argue Scottish) monks a thousand years ago over a beverage they called uisge beatha which translates to “water of life,” or as we call it today whisky or whiskey. Though some argue the distillation process is Celtic in origin or that Ireland’s patron Saint Patrick introduced the process, it was probably introduced to Irish monks from the Spanish or Italians in the medieval period. Lacking grapes but abundant in grain for mash, industrious monks began distilling rudimentary versions of the libation using barley beer. Since these humble distillations, many different nations have adopted the spirit and come up with some tasty incarnations of their own. Basically there are six different kinds of whiskies today. 

Scotch whisky’s unique style and flavor have made it a favorite for decades. While many styles exist, it is almost always made from malted barley and peat is usually introduced during the distillation process, giving the spirit its lively smokiness. It must be aged for at least three years in oak barrels before bottling. Scotch can be distinguished by the different characteristics, which vary depending on the region where it was distilled (i.e. Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, etc.). The water and grain grown in the different regions give the whiskies their distinctive flavors. One of the most iconic Scottish whisky brands was started by grocer John Walker—ironically enough he was a teetotaler.

The fastest growing global whisky category is Japanese whisky. Japanese distillers replicate Scotch whisky-making techniques in Japan, successfully crafting incredibly smooth Scottish-style whiskies. Due to grain and water differences in Japan, the whisky takes on its own unique flavor profiles. These whiskies have won many awards and, not surprisingly, are likened to Scotch in both flavor and style. Like its predecessor, it is made in various styles like blended and single malt.

Irish whiskey can be made in many styles like single pot still, blended and even single malt and is usually thought to be the smoothest of whiskey styles. The only rules are that it must be distilled and aged in Ireland and must also be aged for at least 3 years in wood barrels. The Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland holds the distinction of being the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.

Bourbon is mostly made in Kentucky but can be distilled anywhere in the U.S. In order to be called bourbon it must be made from at least 51 percent corn, must be aged in new oak barrels and distilled to no more than 160 proof, barreled at no more than 125 proof (final product must be 80 proof or more). Due to the high percentage of corn used it is usually more full-bodied and sweeter than other types of whiskey. Similar to bourbon is Tennessee whiskey. The obvious difference is that it must be distilled in Tennessee (and it must undergo the Lincoln County Process where the whiskey is filtered through a thick layer of maple charcoal before barrel aging). 

After being banished during Prohibition, rye whiskey is making a comeback in America. Its mash bill must be at least 51 percent rye. The rest of the rules governing production are identical to those of bourbon but the high rye concentration creates a spicier flavor profile. Modern mixologists can be credited with the rye renaissance as it is being used more frequently in the creation of classic cocktails.

Canadian whisky or “rye” as it is called there, are blended whiskies and contain mostly corn spirits. They are smoother and lighter in body than other styles and may contain little or no rye at all. This may be a little confusing but it’s tasty.

Whether whisky or whiskey there is one out there for you. Try something new or stick to your old faithful. Here are a few recommendations to wet your whistle.  

The Macallan Double Cask 12

Caramel, ginger, sweet citrus and nutmeg

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Malty flavor with peat/toasty notes

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 

Gentle peat, melon, almonds

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