An ever growing list of whiskey related resources…
- Breaking Bourbon – extensive site with reviews and feature articles
- It’s Bourbon Night – great YouTube channel with a wide variety of content
- The Mash and Drum – great YouTube channel featuring reviews
- Rare Bird 101 – blog on all things Wild Turkey
- Stave & Thief Society – providing bourbon steward classes and certification
Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey
by Fred Minnick, Voyageur Press, 2016.
The Complete Whiskey Course: A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes
by Robin Robinson, Sterling Publishing Co., 2019.
Drinking In America: Our Secret History
by Susan Cheever, Twelve / Hachette Book Group, 2015.
Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
by Heather Greene, Avery Books, 2014.
Whiskey & Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas
Edited by Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams, John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
Some Basic Whiskey Terminology:
Whisk(e)y of any kind must be made only from fermented grain, distilled at no higher than 190 proof, put into an oak container to age, and be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.
Bourbon must be made in the United States—anywhere, not just Kentucky. The mash bill (grain recipe) must contain at least 51% corn and be distilled at no higher than 160 proof. It must age in a new, charred oak container and be put in that container at no more than 125 proof. It may not contain any additional added substances other than water.
Rye must be made in the United States. The mash bill must contain at least 51% rye and be distilled at no higher than 160 proof. It must age in a new, charred oak container and be put in that container at no more than 125 proof. It may not contain any additional added substances other than water.
Tennessee Whiskey follows all the rules of bourbon, but distinguishes itself by having to be made in the state of Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal prior to barreling.
Scotch Whisky must be made in Scotland. It is most typically made from malted barley, though it may also contain other malted or un-malted cereal grains. It must be aged in oak casks no larger than 185 gallons and for at least three years. It may not contain any additional added substances other than caramel coloring.
Irish Whiskey must be made in Ireland from any cereal grains. It must be distilled to no more than 189.6 proof, and aged in wood casks no larger than 185 gallons and for at least three years.
Canadian Whisky must be made in Canada from cereal grains, and aged in wooden barrels for at least three years.
Japanese Whisky has no rules or legal definitions! But it’s made with similar processes as Scotch.
ABV percentage of alcohol by volume.
Barrel Strength means no water has been added, and the whiskey has been bottled at the proof the distillate naturally reached when it came out of the barrel.
Bottled in Bond (BiB) is an American term arising from the 1897 Bottled in Bond Act, the first law passed to protect consumers from bad, even dangerous, food or beverages. It means that a whiskey has been distilled at one distillery in one distilling season (a distilling season being the first or second six-months of a given year), has aged a minimum of four years, and been bottled at exactly 100 proof.
Cask Strength is another term for Barrel Strength.
Entry Proof refers specifically to the alcohol proof of the distillate when it first enters the barrel. Entry proof is not the proof stated on the label. The proof indicated on the label refers to the final proof at bottling. See also “ABV” above and “Proof” below.
Mash the mixture of grain, water, and yeast that is distilled to produce alcohol.
Mash Bill the grain recipe of the mash in percentages.
NAS short for no age statement, in reference to whiskey bottles that do not state the exact age of the whiskey inside.
Proof is double the ABV, e.g. 40% ABV is 80 proof. The origin of the term comes from an old practice from back when crooked distillers would mix anything from turpentine to tobacco spit into their barrels. To “prove” a whiskey’s quality, gunpowder would be mixed into it before then lighting it on fire. If the flame either sputtered or flared, the whiskey was deemed questionable. If it burned with an even flame it was considered 100% proved. An ABV of 50% will burn evenly. This made 100 proof a classic standard of quality.
Single Barrel (SiB) is not a legal term. It is accepted to mean that the whiskey comes from one single barrel, unblended with any other barrels. Single barrel bottlings are prized—or reviled—for their particularities. Single barrel bottlings showcase the individuality of a given barrel, how all the various factors have worked together in its instance.
Small Batch (SmB) is not a legal term. It is accepted to mean that a relatively small number of barrels—relative to the output of the given distillery—have been blended together to create the given whiskey. More specific in taste than a general mass bottling, but not so individual as a single barrel bottling, small batch bottlings showcase a master distiller’s blending expertise.
Single Malt / Single Grain are terms most associated with Scotch, though they are not limited to Scotch. Here “single” refers not to the grain or a single barrel, but to the distillate (or distillates, in a blend) having been produced at one single distillery. “Malt” means the basis of the mash bill is malted grain—most typically malted barley, but possibly another malted grain or combination of malted grains. “Grain” means the basis of the mash bill is an un-malted grain or grains.
Sour Mash refers not to a sour taste but to the fact that a portion of the previous mash is added to the next fresh batch. This helps jumpstart fermentation, and encourages continuity in the natural bacterial content and pH balance of the mash and how those factors impact flavor. Most bourbons and ryes use a sour mash, whether the label sates so or not.
Sweet Mash refers not to a sweet taste but to the fact that the mash contains only a fresh batch of ingredients, and no portion of any previous mash has been added. A sweet mash requires more care around controlling undesirable bacterial growth, but also allows for more control when it comes to fine tuning variances in flavor from previous batches.
Straight whiskey is an American term that means it was aged at least two years, and nothing other than water was added to it at bottling. “Straight” may be applied to any type of American whiskey. The label of any American whiskey must state the age if it’s less than four years. Four years and up, age statements are optional. So, for example, if the label says the whiskey is “straight” and yet no other age is indicated, you know it’s at least four years old.
Sometimes a hobby becomes something else. Alcohol itself is a toxin and can be addictive. If you are concerned your drinking may have evolved into an unhealthy habit, here are some resources to consider:
- CDC Alcohol Facts Sheet – basic information about the effects of alcohol.
- Almost Alcoholic– helpful article distinguishing alcoholism from drinking patterns that may very well be wending their way toward alcoholism.
- Alcoholics Anonymous – nationally organized support group.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – website and hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
- Standard Government Warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.