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Whiskey Wisdom

North American Whiskies


Fermentation tank at the Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey Distillery.

Fermentation tank at the Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey Distillery.

Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey

Canadian Club 30 Year Old Reserve Canadian Whisky
Photo Courtesy of Canadian Club Whisky

Bourbon Whiskey:

When one thinks of Bourbon, Kentucky and a Mint Julep immediately come to mind. Bourbon whiskey received its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky (where no bourbon is made today), however it can be distilled in any American state. According to a 1964 act of Congress, it must have a mashbill of at least 51% corn, with other grain whiskies comprising the rest. This straight whiskey, known as "America's Native Spirit," must be distilled at 160 proof (80% alcohol) or less and be aged a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels, although it is often aged for four years or more. No blending or additives (except water to reduce to bottling proof) is allowed in Bourbon.

Tennessee Whiskey:

Tennessee sour mash whiskey is very similar to Bourbon. It only need to be distilled of 51% of corn, with a maximum of 79%. The distinct difference in Tennessee Whiskey is due to a filtration process where the whiskey is allowed to slowly drip through 10 feet of sugar-maple charcoal, a process that can take up to 2 weeks for one batch and is known as the "Lincoln County Process." The whiskey is then transferred to a charred barrel for aging, a minimum of two years. It is common to perceive a charcoal taste in Tennessee whiskey, most prominently in the two most famous brands, Jack Daniels and George Dickel.

Rye Whiskey:

Wheat and barley are commonly used to make Rye Whiskey, however US law mandates that at least 51% of grain used is rye. Rye Whiskey is most similar in taste to Bourbon although there is a spiciness and slight bitter flavor to it that is due to the natural bitterness of rye. During Colonial times Rye Whiskey was very popular, especially in the northeast, however Prohibition damaged the industry and only a few distilleries continued production after it was repealed. Rye has made a comeback in recent years with renewed interest in classic cocktails, which called for it on a regular basis.

American Blended Whiskey:

Like blended Scotch, American Blended Whiskey is a careful selection of straight whiskies and grain spirits combined to create one distinct spirit. A blended whiskey must contain at least 20% straight whiskey and premium brands may have as many as 75 different straight whiskies and grain neutral spirits. This art of blending produces a balanced, rich, light-bodied whiskey, each with its own character.

Canadian Whisky:

When a cocktail calls for "whiskey" you may want to choose a good Canadian Whiskey because it is light-bodied, versatile and very mixable. Made primarily of corn or wheat and supplemented with rye, barley, or barley malt, Canadian Whiskey is aged in used oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years although most are aged for 4-6 years. Almost all Canadian Whiskey is a blend of various grain whiskies of different ages.

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