Local Wine Co's Blog

What Defines Whiskey? by Local Wine Co
August 22, 2010, 10:49 am
Filed under: Libations

We were having dinner with a friend last night who is a college professor and he asked, “so what makes a whiskey a whiskey?” Pretty straightforward question.  After working in the alcohol business for nearly two decades it was a great reminder that not everyone takes drinking and the history of imbibing as seriously as we do, so I thought it would be a good idea to blog about whiskey.

The term whiskey comes from some very old words dating back to the 14th century when intoxicating spirits were simply termed aqua vitae (water/life). This became uisge beatha in Gaelic or the “water of life” and further refinements of the definition of whiskey came about in the 19th century as whiskey was distilled from grain mash(es). European and American definitions required different cask or wood aging terms, but it all revolves around grains as the mash component in the distilling of this “water of life.”  It becomes a little more tricky when we look at the rest of the world though. For instance in India they make whiskey out of molasses. This posses a few problems for purists that have grown up on European or American whiskey. We would normally call this type of spirit rum, but India is quite content to call it whiskey.  You can imagine the trade and big business implications of this. It would be like making “champagne” in California from Thompson table grapes and then selling this as “champagne.” (oh shit, that’s what Korbel does) It tarnishes the image and brand of the term “whiskey” if we can’t all decide on its definition.

Tomes have been written on whiskey, its influence on shaping nations, politics and empires. Suffice it to say, brown liquor has been around for an amazingly long time and has been involved in myriad human experiences from the benign to the profound.

To read about more precise definitions of whiskey that cover the differences between Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, etc try this link: http://whiskeyapostle.com/faqs/

Here’s to whiskey and an Irish saying that I whole heartedly agree with: “What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for.”


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