All alcohol is made up of three basic ingredients – water, yeast, and food for the yeast. Once the ingredients are combined and the alcohol is produced, it is either consumed, bottled, or distilled. Sometimes the newly distilled product is aged. That’s what happens with whisky.
So why do whiskies taste different? It depends on the ingredients used, the way it is distilled, and the aging process. As I mentioned earlier, whisky that is aged in a used pickle barrel will taste much different that whisky aged in a sherry cask. The differences, however, are usually a bit more subtle – like the amount of smoke introduced in the barley drying process. Or the difference between aging in used bourbon barrels or rum casks.
Whisky is only different from rum, or vodka or gin because of the ingredients used and because of the aging process. It’s all just distilled alcohol with a preferred taste. My father drank rum. I hated it. I got sick on tequila in high school. Gin too. Eventually , I resorted to beer and wine, until a few years ago when a friend introduced me to whisky. I thought that it tasted awful, but he insisted that I stick with it. Now we deliberate for hours on the merits of scotch. And Irish. And bourbon or rye. Single malt or blend. Peaty or not. Cask strength or regular. It’s a world filled with complex tastes, opinions, arguments, and drams of pure joy.
Next, we’ll take a look at how whisky is made and examine the similarities and differences of the processes used around the world.