A Guide to Whiskey for Beginners

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Did you know that all bourbon must be made in the United States and be 51% corn?

There are other rules and guidelines surrounding whiskey and its content. If you are ready to learn, read on for our comprehensive “whiskey for beginners” guide.

Whiskey for Beginners: The Basics

Don’t let the rules overwhelm you. You can learn a thing or two about this popular drink. Whiskey (or whisky if you are Scottish) has a long tradition.

There are bourbons, whiskeys, scotch, each is made differently has a different taste, proof, aging, and history. 

Key Whiskey Words

As with everything it is important to speak and understand the language. Learning the keywords and meaning is the first step to truly understanding the details about whiskey. 

Keyword 1, the mash bill is the recipe for the mix of grains that comprises the foundation of a whiskey. As previously mentioned, bourbon must contain 51% corn in its mash bill. Rye whiskey must contain 51% rye grain. 

Keyword 2, whiskey vs whisky what is the difference? Spelling, this is just a regional dialect that has the Scotch, Japanese, and Canadians drop the “e”.

Keyword 3 is bottled-in-bond. Bottled-in-bond is a governmental designation that states that the boddle is 100 proof. It is a reference to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 which is considered one of the first consumer protection acts. It prevented moonshine from be labeled whiskey and sold to unknowing consumers.

Keyword 4 is Angel’s Share. This is the portion of the alcohol or whiskey that evaporates and is given to the Angels that protect it during the aging process. 

Keyword 5 is Islay. This a Scottish island is known for its whisky production. The whisky from this region is known for its peaty, smoky qualities. There are eight whisky distilleries on this one island. It looks like the perfect place to have your next vacation. 

The Bottled-In-Bond Act stated that whiskey with this designation must be the “product of one distilling season from one distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof.” 

This designation is highly coveted and if you whip this out at a bar, you will definitely sound like you know your whiskey. 

Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish

Whiskey, at least good whiskey, is not something to be done as a shot. If you grab your whiskey and down it in a gulp, you will be laughed out of the bar.

Give your whiskey the respect it deserves. Slow down and got through these steps to get to now the whiskey you are consuming.

First, you swirl. Just like with wine, swirling the alcohol around opens up the molecules to air and causes the flavors in the liquor to open up.

Now, take a moment to sniff, not smell, the whiskey. You are not a dog, nor do you have a cold. Use this smell to fully intake the aroma of the whiskey.

Take a sip, allow it to move through your mouth. As the liquid travels from one place in your mouth to another, you will notice different flavors. Enjoy the process.

Now, do the Kentucky Chew, the process real whiskey drinkers use to experience the full taste.

Learn How to Pronounce . . .

You can order The Macallan, Balvenie, Bullet, Maker’s Mark or any of the other great whiskey, scotch and bourbon brands on the market. If you want to stand apart from the crowd, learn to pronounce Gaelic names properly. For example, Bruichladdich looks complicated but it is pretty easy if you practice . . .brook-LADDY.

What is a Tasting Note?

There are flavors in whiskeys like there is in wines. It takes a long time to “train” your brain to understand the tastes you experience.

Don’t get hung up on the complex flavors, those will come with time, but do you taste vanilla, like a Christmas cookie?

Does it taste buttery, oaky spicy? Do you taste a smokey favor? Like a great rack of ribs. 

All that matters is you begin to determine the flavors you taste and determine the tastes you like. 

Order the Whiskeys You Enjoy

You don’t have to order the most expensive whiskey on the menu to know what you like. Try different types of whiskeys. There are new craft brands on the market, you may like them.

Try the brands that everyone talks about, Pappy Van Winkle, Oban, and Woodford. Make a mental, or electronic, a note of what you like and what you don’t. Evernote has the ability to geo-locate your notes so you can not only remember what you like, but you can also remember where you had it. 

Whiskey is distilled to be enjoyed, so make sure that that whiskey you order makes you happy regardless of the thoughts of others.

Continue Your Education

Like wine, those that know whiskey know that the flavors evolve, so do distilling practices. So even though you are now educated on the basics of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch, you should continue to hone our skills.

Ask your favorite bartender questions, go on tours, show up for tastings. The more you talk to another whiskey connoisseurs the more you will learn. Not to mention it gives you a great opportunity to taste new products. 

Now that you have the basics, you can learn more here about distilling your own whiskey. 

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