Alleluia and pass the ammunition! It’s that time of the year when all the world’s whisky lovers unite and stand up for World Whisky Day, and it doesn’t matter whether your choice of ammunition is Scotch whisky, Japanese Whisky, Irish whiskey or American whiskey. Today, when you sit back and enjoy that last evening sip, you can tell all and sundry that you are joining in a worldwide event! So which is right, “whisky” or “whiskey”? Both are correct, the spelling “Whisky” is used in Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada and Japan, while “Whiskey” (with an e) is more common in Ireland and the United States. The spirit itself is made by distilling a fermented grain mash, at its heart it’s much like a distilled beer, a beer that would be totally undrinkable, but a beer none the less. The differences between each whisky relies on where it’s made, and the grain used, most commonly its either barley, wheat, rye or corn.
All of the different whiskies from around the world are all classed in the same group of spirit, but all are so different, even within the distillery you can find different variations. It can help to compare it to wine, even though Riesling is different to Chardonnay and Champagne, and that an Australian Barossa red is different to a French red, they are all still wines and all so different. Even within one wine label you might find two Shiraz, but both will be different.
There are five main types of whisky that you are likely to see on the shelves at your local bottleo: Scotch, Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye and Irish Whiskey.
Scotch whisky must be made from malted barley, and must be aged in wood barrels for no less than three years, and of course needs to be made in Scotland. A Single Malt Scotch whisky is one that is made from water, yeast and malted barley only at a single distillery. Single Grain Scotch means it needs to be the same as above, but may have the addition of other unmalted grains, the single part refers to the use of a single distillery, not that it made from a “single type” of grain. From there you move to blended whisky; blended malt refers to a blend of two or more single malts from different distilleries, blended grain means that it is a blend of two or more single grain whiskies from different distilleries and finally blended scotch which is a blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains. Where an age is listed it must be the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Scotch whisky has the strictest rules controlling the product.
Bourbon Whiskey must be made from a grain mix that has at least 51% corn. The fermentation for this is often started by adding in some mash from an older already fermenting batch, a process called sour mash. Bourbon can only be labelled as Bourbon if it is made in the USA. A Straight Bourbon is one that has been aged for two years in wooden casks and has no other colour, flavours or spirits added. Blended Bourbon however is allowed to have colourings, other flavours added etc as long as it has at least 51% straight bourbon as its base.
Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey is straight bourbon that is simply made in Tennessee and filtered through charcoal. The producers wanted a way to distinguish their particular drop from the others out there, other than that all the same bourbon rules apply.
Rye Whisky can be a little harder to explain. You would think that rye whisky must be made only from rye, but that’s not the case. In Canada it only needs to have rye in it, in the USA it needs to be at least 51% to be labelled rye. Much like bourbon, only rye that has been aged for two years can be labelled straight rye. Some of the most charming and complex whiskey are the ones from USA which are made from rye.
And finally there’s Irish Whiskey which is any whiskey made in Ireland from a yeast fermented grain mash. You can use any grain, but if you mix two different types of the distilled spirit it must be labelled as blended. The whiskey needs to be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. Ireland has the oldest licensed distiller in the world, Old Bushmills Distillery, on Ireland’s north coast, gained their licence in 1608. Ireland has the most relaxed rules which creates the most diversity in their whiskies.
Over the last few months, with all the long weekends in there, I’ve been using the time while camping to look at a few interesting American whiskies. The beauty of these are that they can be had neat, no ice required, important when you are camping with limited ice, whereas most scotch struggle in the FNQ heat, and definitely need a touch of ice to cool it, giving it that 5ml of water to “open” up.
But let me point this out, these are bourbons that you don’t drink with a mixer as you would your normal favourite bourbon. If you’re looking for that then go to a cheaper bourbon.
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey – The name is a mouthful, but so too is the bourbon. Pour it and let it open in the glass a while, grains, old leather and light marmalade and tea on the nose. On the tongue there’s a bit of a battle between the corn and the rye. Great finish to it, with liquorice and spice. Nice stuff. $69
Bulleit 95 Straight Rye Whiskey – not the normal Bulleit here, and harder to find than rocking horse poo, but well worth the search, online is probably your best bet, the 95 here refers to bourbon being created from 95% rye and 5%barley. It’s got green apple and cinnamon with leather and tobacco on the nose. Bit of heat to start on the tongue, then spices, peach and orange zest with a slight smoky finish. $60
Cougar Bourbon – Yes, Cougar Bourbon, it consistently gets great reviews from the godfather of whiskey, Jim Murray. Great crisp, fruitiness which mellows out from the corn to deliver a mid-palate sweetness. The oak delivers good vanilla with lashings of caramels and dried fruit. Great sipping bourbon. $36
Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey – part of the Wild Turkey stable, this is actually a release that celebrates Jimmy and Eddie Russell’s push to release an aged whiskey. Rye and citrus nose, vanilla, dried fruit and dark chocolate. Brown sugar and liquorice on the tongue, with crisp crunchy rye grain notes. Great clean finish with a touch of menthol. $70