If you’re the type that loves exploring different types of spirits and alcoholic beverages from other cultures and countries around the world, then you’ve probably encountered whiskey at some point. If you’re well-versed on the subject, then you probably already know what you like and don’t like when it comes to this distilled delicacy.
However, if you’re more a beer or wine drinker, then you’re probably not as familiar with whiskey. The truth is, whiskey — and the distillation process behind it — is as steeped in history and traditions as beer and wine, making it just as much of a multicultural experience as uncorking an aged bottle of Champagne from France or sipping on an old ale brewed in a monastery in Belgium.
Just like any other type of alcohol, though, whiskey — or “whisky” depending on where you’re drinking it — takes time to appreciate and enjoy. So, what all do you need to know to get started on your whiskey drinking journey? We’ve covered everything you need to know below.
A Quick Whiskey Runthrough
Whiskey is a spirit made from grains that are first fermented and then put through a process called distillation. Traditionally, whiskey is made with corn, rye, barley, or wheat, and it must be at least 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) before it can be bottled. Most whiskey must also be aged in a wooden barrel for a specified period of time depending on the law of the land.
Whiskey Around the World
As for the different types of whiskies out there, there’s a lot to know. We’ve summarized what you need to know below:
- Scotch whisky
Scotch whisky must be distilled in Scotland. It’s also sometimes referred to as “single malt Scotch,” which implies that it was distilled in one distillery. Scotch is also typically a “malt whisky,” which means it was made from malted barley.
- Irish whiskey
Irish whiskey typically uses unmalted barley incorporates other grains as well. Unlike Scotch, it is distilled three times, giving it a smoother flavor.
- Japanese whisky
The Japanese took their cues from the Scottish and started distilling their own version of single-malt and blended whisky back in the 1920s. Unlike the Scottish, the Japanese will combine several stills under one distillery, allowing them to distill more unique varieties in one location.
- American whiskey
If you haven’t noticed yet, there’s a reason whiskey is spelt with both a “y” and an “ey.” “Whiskey” refers to any whiskey distilled in America or Ireland, whereas “whisky” typically refers to whiskey distilled in Scotland, Japan, or anywhere else in the world. As for American whiskey, there are bourbons, rye whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey, all three of which have their own aging and distillation requirements.
How to Drink Your Whiskey
When it comes to how you take your whiskey, there’s lots of debate. A traditionalist will tell you to take it neat with a dash of water, but your bartender may push you take it as a cocktail. The more you travel, you’ll learn that other parts of the world drink it in different ways and for different reasons.
For instance, it’s custom in Taiwan among hikers to sip whiskey out of a bowl after completing a tough trail. Whisky drinkers in Japan like to pair their whiskey with food, whereas Americans would drink their whiskey straight or in a highball cocktail depending on the occasion.
To learn more about whiskey and how you can get started on your whiskey drinking journey, check out Tommy John’s infographic below: