What is Whisky?

Whisky is a dark distilled spirit that is made from a variety of grains, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. It is distilled throughout the world, most popularly in Ireland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Japan. There are various styles of whisky and some countries have regulations that stipulate how it is produced. Whether it’s Irish whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, or Canadian whisky, it’s the most popular liquor in the world and it’s used in numerous cocktail and shot recipes. Surprisingly, drinkers in India consume the most whisky, though the country’s own whisky is rarely exported.

  • Ingredients: Grains
  • Proof: 80–140
  • ABV: 40–70%
  • Calories in a shot: 70
  • Origin: Ireland, Scotland, United States, Canada, Japan
  • Taste: Oaky, grainy, rich vanilla and caramel
  • Aged: Unaged to 50 years
  • Serve: Straight, on the rocks, cocktails, shots

What Is Whisky Made From?

The word “whisky” comes from the Gaelic uisge, a shortened version of uisge beatha meaning “water of life,” also known as aqua vitae in Latin. Whisky was originally used as a medicine, both as an internal anesthetic and an external antibiotic.

Distilling techniques were brought to Ireland and Scotland sometime between 1100 and 1300 by monks. Since wine was not easily obtained there, barley beer was distilled into a liquor which became whiskey. The manufacturing of distilled spirits was limited to apothecaries and monasteries until the late 15th century. Whisky made its way to North America with Irish and Scottish immigrants and has spread across the globe as well.

Though the various styles of whisky use slightly different methods, all are essentially made in the same way. Whisky starts out just the same as beer with a mash of grains—commonly barley, corn, rye, or wheat. Some, as in the case of barley, may also be malted. The grains are mixed with water and yeast for fermentation, which converts starches to sugars that become alcohol. Afterward, the beer is run through a still—either a pot still or continuous column still—that heats the liquid into a concentrated vapor. This comes out the other end as a high-proof liquid distillate that is clear.

Almost all whisky is then barrel-aged for at least a few years. This imparts oak and wood flavors, darkens the liquor, and mellows out the harsh alcohol. After barreling, whisky is then blended with other barrels or different styles of whisky and often diluted to bottling strength. Whisky is typically bottled at 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof) or slightly higher. Some barrel-strength whiskeys, which are not diluted, may reach 140 proof.

Every style of whisky and each brand within the style will have different flavor characteristics. In general, though, whisky has a grainy, woody, oaky taste with notes of caramel, vanilla, fruits, and spice. Some whiskys have a harsh alcohol burn while others are exceptionally smooth.

source: the spruce eats