Whiskey is a type of liquor made from fermented cereal grains.  Different grains are used to produce different varieties.  Barley, corn, rye, wheat and rice are all used in whiskey production.  It is aged in wooden casks.

Whiskey production is regulated worldwide with many different classes and types.  The underlying characteristics are the fermentation of grains, distillation and ageing in wooden casks.

Ancient History

The knowledge of distillation was discovered somewhere in Asia in around 800 BCE.  Distillation is a process used to separate two liquids by boiling the mixture and condensing the vapours in a still.

Distillation was practised by the Greeks in the 1st century CE, but it was not the distillation of alcohol. The Moors learned of the practice and spread its knowledge throughout Europe.

The first distillation of alcohol is thought to come from 13th-century Italy, where alcohol was distilled from wine.

The practice spread to Ireland and Scotland in the 14th century and was used to distil “aqua vitae”, spirit water, primarily for medicinal purposes.

The distillation process was in its infancy and produced a raw and fiery drink.  Over time whiskey evolved into a much smoother drink.

Types of Whiskey

  • Bourbon whiskey – an American whiskey with at least 51% corn mask.  Bourbon must be aged in charred oak barrels which gives it a nutty flavour with a caramelized sweetness.
  • Tennessee whiskey – this is a subtype of bourbon.  Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before it is aged.  This is what gives Tennessee Whiskey its unique flavour
  • Single-malt whiskey -this whiskey contains only one type of malted grain.
  • Japanese whiskey – this is a whiskey that is bottled in Japan.  Japanese whiskey was first distilled from rice.  Today the Japanese have combined Scottish distilling techniques with Japanese craftsmanship to produce some world-class whiskies.
  • Rye whiskey –whiskey that contains at least 51% rye mash.  Like bourbon, rye whiskey must be aged in newly charred oak barrels.  Rye is lighter-bodied than many other whiskeys.  It has a tingly spiciness.
  • Irish whiskey – this whiskey must be produced from malt, cereal grain, and barley.  It has to be distilled, aged and bottled in Ireland to be called an Irish whiskey.  When it’s aged in sherry casks or rum casks it can have a more muted, malty taste.
  • Scottish whiskey – must be distilled, aged and bottled in Scotland.  Scottish law stipulates that Scottish whiskey must be aged in oak barrels for three years.  Scotch receives its smoky flavour from peat, which is lit on fire and used to dry the malted barley used in the distillation process.
  • Canadian whiskey – must be produced and aged in Canada.  It has to have a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume and be aged in wooden barrels for three years.  Canadian whiskey can also contain flavouring or additives to give different brands a unique taste.
  • Blended whiskey – is whiskey comprised of a mixture of different whiskeys.

Some claim that drinking whiskey in moderation may have beneficial health effects.  Even webmd.com has an article claiming that careful and moderate use of whiskey can have some potential benefits.