Whiskey, Whiskey, Bourbon … What Are These Drinks And How Are They So Similar?

Whiskey Bourbon What Are These Drinks It is a distillate, it comes from malt (toasted cereals), which is fermented and then goes through alembics to later age in barrels. However, whiskey (attention to the ‘e’, ​​necessary to identify the Irish), whiskey (the Scotch or scotch) and bourbon, despite their huge relationships, are not exactly the same.

Whiskey Bourbon What Are These Drinks And How Are They So Similar
Whiskey Bourbon What Are These Drinks And How Are They So Similar

Today we tell you what these three products are and how they differ, practically identical in production, but with subtle differences that make us not talk about the same alcohol, although they share three key phases: malt fermentation, distillation and aging

Called the water of life in Gaelic, the Celtic language shared by Ireland and Scotland, with the word uisce beatha (in Irish Gaelic) and uisge beatha (in Scottish Gaelic), from which the word whiskey derives, an anglicization of both. The history dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries, although there are no written testimonies of its existence until the 15th century, both on the Irish side, where it originates from, and on the Scottish side, where it arrived soon after.

His arrival there occurred by monks from continental Europe, who already distilled other types of alcohols. The reason that Ireland is most plausibly the origin of whiskey is that it was evangelized before Scotland. That does not prevent Scotch whiskey (there are more than 120 distilleries) being the most famous in the world and that even within the country there are differences of nuances according to the region, such as Speyside, the Highlands, the Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown), opposite to the 90 or so in Ireland.

We have no record of whiskey in the United States until the 18th century, when Scottish and Irish expats carried their beloved alembics on their rigs. Thus they spread throughout the United States, although the international fame of American whiskey was brought to it by the state of Kentucky, and more specifically, Bourbon County (hence the name that is now popularized) and which, contrary to what is known thinks, allows that in any part of the country Bourbon can be elaborated, not being necessary that it is elaborated in this county or in the own Kentucky, although that has to appear on the label.

Regardless, it was not only in Kentucky, whose designation of origin was taken into account until the end of the 19th century, where whiskey was made. The vast numbers of Scots and Irishmen who made it all over the East Coast of the fledgling United States made it easy for whiskey to be distilled in many different places.

The malt, ah, the malt! Those lightly sprouted and toasted cereals that form the mother mix of whiskey – and beer – are the big bang to make this distillate. Our first big difference is with the types of cereal to use. In Ireland and Scotland barley prevails, while in the United States, maize is mainly used to make bourbon (at least 51% of the grain must be corn, up to a total of 80%) and, to a lesser extent, rye.

The process is simple. You just have to soak the cereal in raw until it germinates slightly. Once achieved, the process is stopped by drying and then the malt is roasted. There are distilleries that buy the toasted malt and others that roast it themselves (such as Balvenie, Bowmore or Laphroaig). Furthermore, here we find a difference between Scotland and Ireland.

The first ones roast malt with peat, a very common charcoal in the Scottish lands, which is in charge of giving smoky touches to whiskey -more or less, depending on the quantity or the way of working of the distillery- while in Ireland they are dried in closed ovens with less peat and not all of their cereal will be malted.

In addition, it is important to highlight another category within cereals, the so-called grain whiskeys (or grain whiskey), which are those in which not all the cereal used is roasted malt. By definition, Bourbons will be grain whiskeys, while in Scotland only those that incorporate other malts or unroasted barley malt will be.

In the Irish case, we are legally talking about grain whiskeys when they do not exceed 30% of roasted malt in their composition, but to make the classic pot still whiskey from Ireland, you must mix roasted malt and unroasted malt in at least 30% of each a.

With grain whiskeys, softer because they have less toasted malt -which is more intense and tasty-, we usually make blended whiskeys (mixed) that we know but that does not mean that all blended ones are made exclusively with grain whiskey. A little mess that we will explain below.

We have roasted malt and now it’s time to grind it, add hot water and yeast. Wow, we would have the same basis of what it takes to make beer and that is that, until here, two of our favorite drinks share paths. However, when they reach the stills they separate. So beer is fermented and whiskey is distillate. This cooked toasted malt dough is called wash and is the prime seed of whiskey.

Still, among our three protagonists we find generic differences – that some distilleries later skip and others don’t – but that serve as a starting point. American whiskey is distilled only once, Scotch goes through the distillation process twice and Irish whiskey does it three times, but what does all this influence?

Well the alembics what they allow is to increase the concentration of alcohol -remember that we come from something similar to a beer, which would barely have between 5º and 9º- and a whiskey must have at least 40% alcoholic volume. The more times an alcohol is distilled, the more alcohol it will have but its flavors will also be concentrated, which is what the master distiller will then have to file in the barrels.

Now You Can Have The Whiskey, Whiskey, Bourbon … What Are These Drinks And How Are They So Similar? Of Your Dreams – Cheaper/Faster Than You Ever Imagined

Although these couple of concepts are for note, it is worth mentioning them to know the manufacturing differences of these whiskeys. In Europe the stills used are the so-called pot stills (that image shaped like a kettle and then an elongated neck that allows the alcohol to evaporate and then cool, resulting in distillation). They are dirtier, since the wash is cooked directly in the tank (pot). Similarly, pot still alcohols are more aromatic due to the greater influence of malt.

In America, with some exceptions, the continuous column method is used, which are tall and elongated, and which is compartmentalized inside, chambers covered by steam, the wash being in the upper compartment. There the steam is responsible for distilling by high temperature that malt cooked by evaporation of the alcohols.

In Scottish whiskeys, it is prohibited to use the continuous column, which has some advantages such as being able to distill more alcohol – not having to be cleaned as often as pot still – or offering cleaner alcohols with, say, less flavor and aroma. Therefore, neutral distillates such as gin and vodka are usually continuous column distillates. However, Irish whiskeys also allow continuous spine but only for grain whiskey, not pot still.

The result of these distillations is a colorless liquid with an alcohol percentage that reaches 60% and 70% and that will be tamed in the barrels, where it will also be lowered with a portion of water. It is in the wood where the whiskey, bourbon or whiskey really play the all or nothing of its reason for being and the one that will be responsible for giving it the majority of final aromas and flavors.

Also, not surprisingly, we find differences between them. To make bourbon, for example, always requires new, freshly burned American oak barrels. The use of new barrels gives a somewhat more untamed flavor to bourbon, in addition to increasing its sweet touches with aromas of coconut or vanilla, while in the case of whiskeys and whiskeys we find used barrels – both American oak and oak. French, although the first is more frequent – it has hosted bourbon, rum, cognac, brandy and even sherry in the past.

This happens both in Scottish whiskeys and in Irish whiskeys, which generally sleep in bourbon barrels – remember that these are discarded after their only use – and then in barrels that contained Madeira or sherry wines. A substantial change in the historical tradition of Scottish whiskeys occurred last year, when the Scotch Whiskey Association (the regulatory body in Scotland) opened the door for many other barrels to be used such as tequila, mezcal, Calvados. , cachaça or oriental liqueurs such as shochu or baijiu. Renew or die, it is said.

In the same way, not all casks are the same size, although the most frequent are barrel (between 190 and 200 liters, frequent in Bourbon), hogshead (between 225 and 250 liters, frequent for aging Scotch whiskey) and butt (between 475 and 500 liters, which derives from the boot concept, popular in Jerez, from where these enormous barrels usually come to age whiskey). The meaning of these sizes is that the larger the container, the more surface of the whiskey can be in contact with it and acquire those nuances for a longer time. For this reason, the bourbon barrels are smaller.

For a Scotch whiskey to come onto the market, it has to spend at least 3 years sleeping in its barrel, exactly the same minimum period as for the Irish. In the case of American whiskeys we find periods of at least two years.

However, these are only the minimums and the maximums will depend on the distillery and the type of whiskey you want to make. As a general rule, the older the whiskeys, the more nuances they will have. For this reason, it is important that the maturations are slow and that this contact between the wood that previously contained other liqueurs or wines occurs to transfer part of its aromas to the new tenant.

For this reason, American whiskeys -with few exceptions- are sweeter -also for corn- and for the vanilla notes that come off the oak. In the same way, the Scots here will nuance their smoked profiles with the contact with the wood, appropriating the touches that other products have left in the barrels.

Something that the Irish also do, thus acquiring nuances that, depending on the former tenant, will be of one type or another. What is common between the two whiskeys in the British Isles is that they first age in bourbon barrels (and longer) and then a shorter period in that of more subtle products. So to speak, the bourbon barrel will give it body and the fragrant one, Madeira or Oporto, will give the differential touch to the aromas.

In this sense, the use of a barrel is not eternal and Scottish and Irish whiskeys allow these aged barrels to be used a maximum of three times because from there the borrowed nuances sought in each whiskey are lost. In addition, in all three cases the passage of the barrel is also responsible for the whiskeys taking color. By the way, in all three cases caramel color (additive E150) is used in general – there are exceptions with some distilleries – so that the whiskey has that frequent golden or amber color. This caramel does not add flavor but it does dress the final product.

By the way, the whiskey you have in your house, already in the bottle, does not continue to improve with the years you spend in it. In fact, even if it is stored in the distillery, once it goes into the bottle, its aging process does not continue to progress. Once removed from the barrel, unlike the wine, the whiskey stabilizes.

We have come across marketing, friend Sancho. The reality is that there is no differentiation in production between Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey except for filtering with charcoal before entering the barrel. Actually, it wasn’t until 2013 that a state law regulating Tennessee whiskey forced all whiskeys that were from Tennessee to go through this process.

Not surprisingly, and taking into account its higher market value, manufacturers applauded this measure, which allowed them a greater differentiation with bourbon, although its flavor does not really vary as much as it is supposed. But no, officially Tennessee whiskey is not Bourbon.

Due to a European law to protect the consumer, when we see a whiskey that it puts that is 8 years old, for example, it will mean that this is the minimum time that a whiskey has been, which can be single malt, vatted or blended, in barrels. That does not prevent that within a single malt there are mixtures of different barrels that may be much older, but the European labeling forces it to date with the youngest of them.

It is also related because, unlike wine, whiskey has no vintage -except in specific cases such as The Glenrothes Vintage- and this is due to the production process. The master distiller, tasting and smelling each barrel, knows what is the ideal point to take out his single malt or blended, gathering different whiskeys from different barrels and making something similar to a coupage.

Some concepts related to whiskey complicate our lives or, at least, leave us with some doubts. They are frequent, both in labels and in categories, and they are not many but it is convenient to be familiar with some of them.

Single malt: The black legs of whiskey are considered and its defining characteristic is that it comes from a single distillery, where all the whiskey processes have been made but where different malt whiskeys can be mixed -that is why a Bourbon can never be single Malt- from different vintages but always from the distillery itself.
Single grain: A single grain is a whiskey that is only made with a specific type of grain, it can be barley, wheat, rye or corn but made in a single distillery. They are cheaper because malted barley is more expensive and are therefore friendlier and more subtle in aromas and flavors.

Blended: Above we told you that blended means mixed and that is that these very popular whiskeys are characterized by a mixture that they make inside the distillery that can be mixed single malts, singles grains or grain whiskeys. It is a mistake to always think that a blended whiskey is of poorer quality due to the fact that it is a mixture. An example can be found in the famous Johhnie Walker Blue Label, which is a blended of different singles malts, and with prices that usually exceed € 220.

Also called blended malt, it is that category of blended that can only be made with malt whiskeys from different distilleries. It is a good way to differentiate the vatted concept from the blended concept.
Single cask: These whiskeys have only been aged in one and the same barrel. They are more intense whiskeys and there may be notable differences between them, even though they are from the same brand.

Alcohol: Any whiskey, from whatever corner of the world it is, must have at least 40%. Otherwise it won’t be whiskey. That does not prevent us from finding whiskeys with much higher degrees and even the so-called cask strenghts, which are whiskeys that have not been diluted with water when entering the barrel and that have more alcohol than normal.

Pure Malt: You may still find this definition, but you should be clear that it does not mean Single Malt. It is a merely commercial category, generally associated with vatted, that some manufacturers have taken advantage of to sow some confusion and make their product more expensive. They are not bad whiskeys at all but they are not single malts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *