Facts about whiskey

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What you should know about whiskey
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Whiskey has a great history and there are so many random facts that will make you look like a whiz, it’s hard to list them all.

We found the most interesting and the most impressive and listed them here, so you can educate yourself and prepare to blow the mind of whoever you’re out to drinks with.

Whisky is not the same as Whiskey

There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distilleries are the only ones who can call (spell) their whisky, whisky. But the general consensus is this:

Whisky: Scottish only
Whiskey: Everyone else in the world

Facts: Scots spell it without the “e” because they believe more vowels waste good drinking time.

Whiskey is beer

Whiskey is beer (without the hops)* that’s been distilled two or three times.

From the American Distilling Institute:
“To distill whiskey you first have to make beer. Beer is a technical term for whiskey wash, regardless of the type of raw ingredients used.”

Actually, most of the Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys are made using hops (as an antibacterial) to propagate their yeast.

Jack Daniels recently stopped using hops. Some Canadian distilleries use hops. It’s only Ireland and Scotland that don’t.

Whiskey is taxed more than you are

More than 50 percent of the purchase price of a fifth of whiskey in the U.S. goes to taxes (federal, state and local).

Angels love whiskey

The “Angel’s share” or “Angel’s tax” refers to the 4% of whiskey that evaporates every year.

Angels “steal” 4% of the whiskey in a barrel every year. They want to make sure it’s OK before we drink it.

(Once you bottle whiskey, the angel’s can’t touch it. It doesn’t evaporate.)

How to calculate how rare your whiskey is

The oldest whiskey in the world is almost automatically most rare whiskey because of the annual 4% “angel’s tax.”

The buyer of a very old bottle is drinking a huge percentage of the only whiskey left on the earth from that year.

Here’s how to calculate how much whiskey is left over from each year. (It works like interest rates, but backwards.)

100 x (0.96) ^ years old = % of whiskey left on earth from that year.

To some people, whiskey tastes like burnt ass

A Scot tells us this urban legend: Some whiskeys contain chemicals that only some people are genetically capable of tasting. If you can taste it, they taste like burnt ass.

True whiskey drinkers don’t add ice

A whiskey collector who we interviewed at a whiskey conference (watch the video) told us:

Ice dulls the flavor of whiskey. It reduces the temperature of the whiskey too much, inhibiting the flavor and freezing its aroma. If you must, adding one cube is moderately acceptable.

Taking it “neat” (plain) doesn’t work well either. Adding just a drop-small splash of water is best. The water prevents the strong alcohol content from numbing your senses.

On the type of water, soft still spring water will enhance the aroma and flavor of a whiskey. Some tap water contains high levels chlorine that would spoil the flavor, so be wary.

Lighting whiskey on fire

Another Scottish legend: They used to light some of the scotch on fire to determine how much alcohol was in it.

The color of the flame shows whether or not the alcohol content is right. If it burns too hot, there is too much alcohol. They usually sold it to the distillery workers cheap.

The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794

There was an uprising in Pennsylvania counties after Alexander Hamilton began taxing Whiskey in 1791. Scottish and Irish settlers resented the tax. Whiskey was an important economic commodity to them.

Rioting broke out in 1794 and the president at the time, none other than George Washington, sent troops to quell the rioting. Hamilton hoped to set an example using two rebels, whom he convicted for treason, but Washington later pardoned them.

Hamilton’s tax was repealed in 1802.

There are 5-7 whiskey regions

Depending on whom you ask, there are between 5 and 7 different main regions where whiskey is distilled.

The five regional whiskeys always included are: Scotch Whisky, Irish Whiskey, Kentucky (Bourbon), Canadian Whiskey, and Tennesse Whiskey. The disputed two regional whiskeys are Japanese and New Zealand.

Region: Bourbon, Kentucky

Bourbon whiskey is distilled one time in Bourbon, Kentucky (90% of it, that is. Now it’s not a requirement that Bourbon be distilled in Bourbon county).

Taste: it’s made of mostly corn, so it’s sweeter than other whiskeys.

Funnily enough, Bourbon county is a “dry” county, meaning they aren’t allowed to sell any liquor.

Examples: Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey

Region: Ireland

The very first whiskey was (arguably) created in Ireland by Irish monks.

Irish whiskey is distilled three times, “triple-distilled,” using pure-malted barley as the grain.

Examples: Jameson’s, Bushmill’s, Michael Collins, and Power’s.

Taste: Don’t ever say Irish whiskey tastes smoky. Malted barely is dried in closed ovens, and is never exposed to smoke.

Here’s a fun video from Asylum about the origins of Irish Whiskey. Whiskey was apparently invented so that the Irish wouldn’t invade another country. It worked. They didn’t!

Region: Scotland

“Scotch” only refers to Scottish whisky or Scotch whisky.

The Scots also say they were the first to create Whisky. Technically, as far as we can see, whisky does not seem to have been a recognized product in Scotland until after the Union, whereas the Irish were distilling spirits from malt at least as far back as 1590.

There is also legend that says the irish monks actually introduced whiskey to the Scots.

Examples: Macallan, Glenlivit, Tallisker, Oban, Highland Park

Tastes: smoky (because it’s made from barley dried over peat fire.

Cool story: the Scotch whisky scene was hugely influenced by the Act of Union in 1707 that combined England, Wales, and Scotland into the UK.

The London government started taxing Scottish-made whisky (and cutting the taxes on English gin). Illicit distilling boomed. In Edinburgh there were apparently around 400 illegal stills and just eight with licenses.

A bunch of Scottish distilleries, particularly in the Highlands, started as illicit operations.

Read more about the origins of Scotch whisky here.

Region: Canada

Canadian whiskey is distilled any number of times using malted rye as the grain.

“Canadian Club” was a massively popular whiskey during the ’50s. It’s the only North American distiller to have been granted a Royal Warrant (now withdrawn). It’s also the whiskey you see Don Draper always drinking in Mad Men.

Seagram’s and Sons is also a popular Canadian whiskey. So is Crown Royal.

Canadian whiskey is the number one imported spirit into the United States. It’s second in consumption only to vodka.

Tennessee

There are only two brands of Tennesse whiskey right now. Jack Daniels and George Dickel.

Fun fact: On the first Friday of every month, employees at Jack Daniel’s get a free bottle.

There are also whiskey “blends”

Blended whiskeys take whiskeys from multiple distilleries and combines them.

The normal ratio of malt to grain is 60% grain whiskey and 40% malt whiskey. Each whisky used in the blending process has usually aged for about 5 years.

The point is to have it taste the same year after year.

Examples: Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Seagram’s Seven Crown, Jameson, Chivas Regal, Old St Andrews and Isle of Skye.

Whiskey means “water of life”

In Gaelic, whiskey translates to uisce beatha or “water of life.”

The “e” in whiskey comes from fuisce, which comes from uisce beatha. When the Irish monks spread whiskey around Europe, no one could pronounce uisce beatha, so they called it fuisce.

“Uisce” actually sounds more like “Whiskey.”

Dairy farmers love whiskey distillers

Dairy farmers near distilleries often pick up the discarded pulp of corn and other grains used to make whiskey. The two have a symbiotic relationship.

The distilleries dispose of excess grain waste and give the farmers a nutrient-rich feed for their livestock. The feed helps the cows produce more milk.


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