Whiskey: It is the drink of Honkytonks, of Country and Western, of saloons and the ballads sung in them. It is 42nd Street meets Michigan Avenue meets Heaven Hill, Kentucky. It’s the catch-all category wherein Scotch is connected to Bourbon and Irish to Rye. And to Canada and to Japan and to Panama and Peru, and wherever else a grain mash is built, fermented akin to beer, distilled a few times, then intentionally left to idle in wooden barrels to breathe, soften and take on notes of vanilla, coconut and spice. “Whiskey is as diverse as wine with a broad spectrum of flavor,” said Robin Coupar, Whiskey Specialist for Campari America. “Women are embracing whiskey too as they are attracted to its complexity.” Whiskey sings in the Mint Julep, the Old-Fashioned, the Rob Roy, in San Francisco’s Boothby Cocktail, and rarely is it better than in a Manhattan. It is known as Whiskey, or as Whisky, or Whisk(e)y in the seminal book on the tipple by Stefan Gabanyi. (more…)
Vodka is no longer king. Nothing against neutral grain spirits, but a lack of discernible flavor is not necessarily the only tool in the modern bartender’s speed rack, and thanks to resurgence of interest in classic cocktails, more consumers are seeking alternatives—and adjectives other than “smooth” to describe their favorite spirits.
Equal to this renewed demand is whiskey, which is less a specific kind of spirit than a grouping of many spirits whose depth, complexity and versatility make them indispensable to both professional bartenders and amateur enthusiasts. The problem is that walking into the whiskey section of even a small liquor store can be a daunting experience without a basic working knowledge of the differences between whiskies and their application in cocktails. So to get you started, here’s a rundown of the four basic types of whiskeys. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to (most) every rule, and that whiskey is a broad and detailed subject with more than its share of academic minutia; however, this primer should be more than enough to help you navigate the pitfalls of the whiskey aisle.