what is whiskey
Spelling: Ask a whiskey drinker what whiskey is and you will probably get as many different answers as the number of folks you ask. Well, first of all, how you SPELL it will differ depending on where you are. In general, here in the United States, we spell it “Whiskey”. They also spell it that way in Ireland and a few other places. In places like Scotland, Canada, and Japan (and other places) they spell it “Whisky”, without the “e”. Although there is a difference in spelling there is fundamentally not much difference between the way they are made (but…..there are always exceptions). There can, however, be quite a big difference between the way whiskey from different countries tastes.
A Definition: So, what is “whiskey/whisky”? Let’s go with what the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau says (paraphrased). Whiskey is an alcoholic liquid distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (ABV) (or….190 proof), and “having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% ABV (80 proof)". As you can see, this is a pretty general definition. With the increase in popularity of “flavored” whiskey, the whole question of “having the taste….” is somewhat liberally interpreted. Interestingly, the U.S. does NOT have age or aging vessel requirements for what can be called whiskey. So……as soon as that first drop comes off the still, it can still legally be called whiskey. This explains why the popular “moonshines” that are being commercially produced (vice being made “back in the mountains”) can also be called “whiskey”.
Just as a comparison, in Scotland, Canada, and Ireland, you can’t legally call it whisky unless it has spent at least three years aging in a wooden cask.
What whiskey REALLY is….a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from a fermented grain mash. Basically, this means it is a liquid that you can drink, that has alcohol in it, which was made via a distilling process from water, grains, and yeast. [NOTE: There are tons of good websites out there that describe the distilling process, and if you are interested, I urge you to explore them.]
One More Thing: It is often overlooked, but unlike wine, whiskey does not further mature or “get better" once it is in the bottle. Like wine, however, once a bottle is open, it may affect the flavor (I find, usually to the better.). Unlike wine, however, only in very rare circumstances (like if you store your whiskey in open bottles on the roof of your house…..in the desert) will an open bottle “go bad”. You can drink a properly stored/sealed bottle of whiskey you opened 10 years ago and it should be just as good (if not better) than when you first opened it. Just remember to put the cork/stopper/lid back on it when you store it.