The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Whiskey
Are you aiming for that enviable bartending job? Sure, you’re energetic, friendly and hard-working – all of the characteristics of a great bartender. But, can you tell the difference between Scotch and Bourbon? Well, if you can’t, you’re in a little trouble. If you want to get your foot in the door at a good establishment, you need to know your swill. Here, then, are some basic whiskey facts that all bartenders should know.
How is Whiskey Made?
Whiskey has undergone many a makeover since it first arrived on the scene in Scotland in the 15th century. Over the years, brewers have experimented in the distillery, coming up with a variety of concoctions. Different brewing techniques have given rise to a host of subtle variations in flavour and texture. These are also dependent on the type of grain used for the whiskey, as well as the blending and ageing processes. There are, however, three main categories of whiskey – malt, grain and blended.
This is made from a fermented mash of malted barley grain. The simplest form of malt whiskey is the single malt – the product of only one type of grain fermented and distilled at a single distillery. The exclusivity of the single malt has made it a favourite amongst whiskey connoisseurs. Popular US single malts include St. George and McCarthy. Scottish single malts are the stuff of legend, with Old Pulteny and Glengoyne starring in what is a spectacular tradition of whiskey making. Blended malt whiskey is also made from the same type of malted grain. However, it is distilled at different establishments – detracting from the very narrow definition of single malt.
This is a blended variation of the traditional malt whiskey, consisting of malted barley and other types of grain. For example, corn, wheat and rye are popular partners to malted barley in the creation of American whiskey. You can identify this type of grain whiskey by looking at the title of the brand. Titles usually consist of one ingredient (say, rye), followed by malt, and the name of the distillery. A good example is the US brand, Old Potrero Rye Malt.
When creativity and technology meet, the possibilities are endless. Innovative brewers tend to flout the rules in the creation of blended whiskeys, experimenting with additives and unusual grains for the creation of new whiskey hybrids. These are blended whiskeys. In fact, some of the most popular modern whiskeys are blends. Examples of Scotch blends are Johnny Walker and J&B. Irish blends include Jameson Irish Whiskey, Locke’s and Old Kilkenny.
Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet! Whiskey can also differ according to the region in which it is made. Scotch whiskey, as you may imagine, is made in Scotland. It has to be created according to a strict list of standards in order to qualify as Scotch – one of them being a three-year ageing period. Scotches are also commonly treated with malt that has been smoked from peat. This process gives the whiskey its distinctive smoky flavour.
American whiskeys also have a strong following. Categories include the Southern favourite, Bourbon, a grain whiskey of corn and malt. An example of a brand is Maker’s Mark. Another type of grain whiskey, which is referred to as Tennessee Whiskey, is the much-loved Jack Daniel’s brand, which is also made with corn mash.
A sound knowledge of whiskey will not only impress your friends. It will definitely make a lasting impression at a bartender’s interview, and help you get the bartending job of your dreams.