The World of Whiskeys

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One of the world’s great pleasures is to slowly sip a fine whiskey and let the tensions of the day drain away. Whether you prefer your dram pure, on the rocks or with water, fine whiskey is to be sipped slowly at the end of a long day.

The original whisky, Scotch, is made only in Scotland by law and comes primarily from one of five principal regions. It’s made from a fermented barley mash heated over slow peat fires. After the distillation process, the whisky is stored in oak casks from 8 to 20 years, occasionally longer. The oak smooths the rough edges, allowing the spirit to absorb flavors of the casks that previously held wine, sherry or bourbon. Single malt whisky is made from barley and at only one distillery. Blended whisky is a mixture of one or more whiskies and is less expensive.

The Scots, Canadians, Australians, Indians and Japanese use the whisky spelling while Americans use the spelling whiskey. By law, the Irish can use either spelling though the tendency is toward whiskey.

Irish whiskey can be one of four different spirits: malt whiskey, grain whiskey, pot still Irish whiskey and blended Irish whiskey made in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. The best-known Irish whiskey is Jameson®. Traditional Irish malt whiskies are distilled three times, though modern production often tends toward two distillations. Irish whiskey is generally considered to be lighter and fruitier than Scotch. Most Irish whiskey is not smoky, but the peaty Connemara® is an exception. In recent years, Irish whiskey has seen a resurgence in popularity and many small craft distilleries are popping up.

American whiskey covers a wide range of spirits but it’s most famous for two products, rye and bourbon. Rye whiskey must contain at least 51 percent rye grains while bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn. Bourbon can be produced only in the United States, but it does not have to be produced in Kentucky. Tennessee whiskey is made with corn and produced only in Tennessee. Corn whiskey is made with at least 80 percent corn; it doesn’t have to be aged though it may be. Wheat whiskey is made from 51 percent wheat and has a mellow, winey taste. At present, U.S. craft distillers are more about size and ownership than type of spirit.

Canadian whisky has been produced for over 200 years. It was traditionally made with wheat but most of today’s spirits are blends of various grains. The whisky can have wine or other spirit added to it if it has been aged for two years in wood. Canadian whisky is considered milder and lighter than other whiskies.

Japanese whisky has only been around for only 75 years, so when Jim Murray named the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask Single Malt as the World Whisky of the Year in 2015, Japanese whisky arrived on the world stage. Distilleries are hard pushed to keep up with demand, making Japanese whisky pricy. It’s aged using locally grown water oak for casks and has a wide range of mild flavor profiles including sandalwood, coconut and a honey-like flavor.

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The collector will expect something high end. If the sky’s the limit, try the Yamazaki or McCallan 50- or 55-year-old whiskys. These can cost six figures per bottle!

For the hobbyist, try an unusual whiskey that allows room for experimentation. The Japanese whiskies are good bets here. Try Nikka Pure Malt Whisky, Hibiki®, Hakushu® or Ichiro.
Scotch whisky enthusiasts have countless breweries to choose from. Try The Dalmore or Tullibardine 500 to widen the recipient’s experience. Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Johnnie Walker and Buchanan’s are old favorites.

Canadian friends might appreciate the traditional Canadian Club and Crown Royal. For the adventurous ones, gift WhistlePig or Forty Creek.

The bourbon lover will treasure the Pappy Van Winkle six bottle collection. That is, if you can find it and the sky is the limit. Beware of scams! Instead, look for Buffalo Trace, Wheel Horse and other popular bourbons, such as Jim Beam or Wild Turkey.

Tennessee whiskey devotees will enjoy the ever-popular Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Bib and Tucker 6-year-old Small Batch Bourbon or Rollins Tennessee Whiskey. Irish whiskey lovers will prefer a bottle of the highly popular Jameson, Bushmills, Redbreast or the peaty Connemara.

The above suggestions are only a few of the great whiskeys available. Whatever spirit you choose, drink responsibly, and remember the old Irish toast: May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

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