Sipping a glass of your favorite neat-pour whiskey will take you to pleasurable heights as you cap off your day filled with work-related stress. Its distinctive woody taste and the smokey, fruity notes running through your palate will definitely make you want to enjoy another glass. But did it ever cross your mind how this extra satisfying distilled spirit is made?
Okay, you have probably picked up bits of information about whiskey while social drinking in a popular bar but I bet it is about time to set the record straight. Gear up and let us explore the facts on how whiskey is developed.
Whiskey (also spelled as whisky in Canada and Scotland) is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from water, grain, and yeast. During production, the grain is mashed with water, then mixed with yeast, and later on, made to ferment. The blend is then distilled and aged usually in charred oak barrels, giving whiskey its distinctive woody flavor.
Although it is the producers’ prerogative as to what grain to use in making whiskey, more often than not, the grains used include wheat, barley, corn, and rye. Wheat is particularly important in the production of American whiskey, where at least 51 percent of fermented wheat mash is distilled at no more than 80 percent alcohol by volume (abv). To the tongue, a wheat whiskey is softer and lighter as compared to other types of whiskey but still offers the burnt, smokey tang that every drinker craves for.
Another popular grain used in whiskey making is rye. At least 51 percent of rye mash is utilized to pass the law’s requirement of a “rye whiskey”. The rye mash is distilled to no more than 160 (US) proof and is responsible for giving the drink a rather dry yet spicy or fruity hint to the whiskey.
Barley, on the other hand, is used along with a combination of other ingredients to create what is known as malt whiskey. The United States require around 51 percent of malted barley mash to be included in the production, distilled and aged in new oak containers at less than 62.5 percent abv. The taste produced is naturally sweeter, thanks to the malting process that bring out the sugars of barley, but drinkers also notice the smoky/peat taste coming out from malt whiskey.
Among the grains available, perhaps it is corn (maize) that is the easiest and most popular to use. In the late 1700s alone, there was a significant surplus of corn, which prompted farmers to make whiskey out of the excess supply of the grain. Also, compared to other whiskey types, corn whiskey does not require wood aging or if it does, the time needed is not more than six months, therefore making it a good grain choice in terms of production and immediate availability in the market. Bourbon whiskey, although still made of corn (51 percent corn mash required) is different because it must be aged in oak barrels.
For a mash to be considered a genuine corn whiskey, the maize mash must be at least 80 percent and must be aged at 125 proof and lower. The flavor is brighter as compared to other types, and is often sweet, chewy, and rich—a true mark of a corn’s taste.
There you have it, the various types of grains used in whiskey making and the flavors they create. Surely, you have picked up our brains and ready to choose the manliest spirits to include in your liquor collection at home.