In recent years, whiskey has solidified its status as a beloved spirit worldwide, witnessing an impressive sales trajectory with over 28 million nine-liter cases of American whiskey sold in 2020, as noted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. As you find yourself curious about what makes this amber liquor tick, we take you through a guide to help you navigate your next bar visit, ensuring a delightful and rich whiskey experience.
The Backbone of Whiskey
Understanding whiskey begins with its primary ingredient — grains. A selection ranging from barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, to corn, undergoes fermentation to give us the base of this iconic beverage. The age of a whiskey bottle indicates the duration it spent maturing in barrels, with older whiskies boasting a more developed taste at a steeper price point.
Which Whiskeys Are Available to You In Most Bars?
The variety of whiskeys available in any bar might seem overwhelming. These are the three primary types of whiskies you’re likely to encounter: Bourbon, Irish Whiskey, and Scotch.
Bourbon stands as a proud representation of American heritage, characterized by its sweet notes derived predominantly from corn — it contains a minimum of 51% corn and matures in new charred oak barrels. Originating from Kentucky and Tennessee, Bourbon has many advocates who appreciate it in its undiluted form, even when young. To appreciate the full spectrum of flavors that bourbon can offer, be sure to ask for these renowned labels on your next outing:
- Makers Mark: Esteemed for its sweet and smoky profile, this brand has been a staple choice for bourbon enthusiasts, who enjoy it for its rich tradition and high-quality production process.
- Jack Daniels: Although technically falling under the category of Tennessee whiskey, it holds a firm place in the heart of many bourbon lovers for its versatile nature, pairing beautifully with cola or being savored neat.
- Woodford Reserve: A classic choice that stands tall for its full-bodied flavor profile and rich history; it makes a superb choice for bourbon-based cocktails.
- Bulleit Bourbon: Noted for its high rye content, it offers a bold, spicy character that can elevate any whiskey drink.
- Jim Beam: A household name offering a range of bourbons that are both affordable and characterized by a smooth and mellow flavor profile.
Irish whiskey stands distinct with its varied offerings that include blended, single pot, single grain, and single malt varieties. The triple-distilled spirit, a method extracting enriched flavors from the grains, uses both malted and unmalted barley, coupled with a touch of wheat or oats. Aging for a minimum of three years lends it amber hues with spicy or fruity undertones.
These prime selections come with a rich background and distinctive taste profiles:
- Jameson: Recognized globally, it is prized for its balanced and smooth attributes, presenting itself as a premium option for whiskey connoisseurs.
- Bushmills: A respected name in the Irish whiskey scene, it offers a smooth and gentle flavor profile that has been perfected over centuries.
- Teeling Whiskey: Renowned for its innovative aging techniques, it delivers whiskeys with vibrant and modern flavor notes.
- Tullamore D.E.W.: Known for its triple-distilled whiskeys, it showcases a light and graceful character that appeals to a wide audience.
- Cooley: Often praised for producing a range of exciting expressions, it presents a great opportunity to try something slightly off the beaten path in the Irish whiskey landscape.
The historical Scottish whiskey, widely known as Scotch, incorporates only yeast and malted barley in its production. Scotch is available in various styles based on its components and manufacturing techniques. The aging process in different barrels such as sherry, bourbon, or wine casks imparts a unique flavor and color to each batch. The following selections are what you should ask for in a bar:
- Johnnie Walker: Whether you opt for the premium Blue Label or the popular Black Label, each variant offers a unique tasting experience, epitomizing the diversity and quality found in scotch whiskies.
- Glenfiddich: A pioneer in the single malt category, it offers a range of aged whiskies renowned for their pear and apple notes.
- Macallan: An esteemed name in the scotch industry, it is particularly favored for its rich, full-bodied whiskies aged in sherry casks.
- Ardbeg: Ideal for those with a liking for peaty and smoky flavors, it promises an intense and memorable tasting experience.
- Lagavulin: Celebrated for its deep, complex flavor profile, it makes a great choice for seasoned Scotch drinkers looking to enjoy a dram with a pronounced smoky note.
Whiskey Selection Guide for Beginners and Pros
For Beginners Preferring a Milder Taste:
- Step 1: Start with a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W.; its light and graceful character makes it a perfect choice for those venturing into the world of whiskeys.
- Step 2: Opt for Jim Beam bourbon, well-known for its smooth and mellow flavor profile which can be an excellent introduction to bourbon without overwhelming the palate.
- Step 3: Sample Johnnie Walker Black Label, a scotch variant that is both popular and offers a balanced tasting experience, providing a gentle introduction to the world of Scotch.
- Step 4: Experiment by adding a few ice cubes to your whiskey, unlocking potentially milder and more refreshing notes in each sip.
For Those Seeking a Stronger Whiskey Experience:
- Step 1: Dive into the rich and full-bodied flavors presented by Macallan, which offers whiskeys aged in sherry casks, providing a depth of flavor that will thrill the palate of someone seeking a strong whiskey option.
- Step 2: Venture towards Ardbeg if you are curious about exploring the smoky and peaty flavors that are characteristic of some scotch whiskies, presenting a more intense tasting experience.
- Step 3: Give Bulleit Bourbon a try, as its high rye content offers a bold, spicy character that stands out in any whiskey cocktail, or when savored neat.
- Step 4: Experiment with serving your chosen whiskey neat to appreciate its true character and uncover the full spectrum of flavors it has to offer.
Keep in mind that selecting a whiskey is a personal choice, and it’s all about finding the perfect balance that suits your taste buds.
Whiskey Cocktails for Every Drinker
Stepping beyond the traditional methods of enjoying whiskey, we find a vibrant world of cocktails that offer a delightful middle ground between the potency of a martini and the lightness of beer. These are popular cocktails that many bars should have the training to make if your not into neat whiskey:
The Time-Honored Old Fashioned
Lovers of tradition will appreciate the Old Fashioned, a cocktail that reverently highlights whiskey as its star ingredient. Crafting this classic involves blending bourbon with bitters, sugar, and water, creating a drink that stands tall in the cocktail hall of fame. Requesting it with Maker’s Mark bourbon can elevate your cocktail experience, offering a splendid treat to your taste buds.
The Rusty Nail
Whiskey enthusiasts with a penchant for Scotch should not miss out on the Rusty Nail, a concoction of the finest Scotch paired with Drambuie and a splash of water, reaching a rich brown hue upon stirring. This drink promises a delightful experience all year round, presenting a unique way to enjoy Scotch.
Irish Coffee, a Whiskey-Laced Warm Embrace
When the weather calls for a warm drink, Irish coffee comes to the rescue, combining hot coffee, sugar, and Irish whiskey, commonly Jameson. The addition of cream brings harmony to the drink, merging the strength of whiskey with the sweetness of sugar. Tailoring the proportions of the ingredients to your preference can create a beverage that’s just perfect for you.