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Beginners Guide to Bourbon

Beginners Guide to Bourbon

If you’re not a bourbon or scotch drinker, you may have wondered what the appeal of these drinks is, and why they’re such popular choices at your local bar. I

f you spend some time in pubs, you may have heard people order a “bourbon on the rocks,” a “single malt scotch, neat” or a “Canadian whisky and ginger ale.”

These are all very popular choices amongst people who enjoy a distilled libation on occasion (a “distilled libation” is a drink with alcohol in it to you and me).

If you are curious about the differences (and similarities) between distilled spirits known as whiskey (or whisky—we’ll explain the difference here), bourbon, scotch, and rye, please read on, and the next time you visit your neighborhood’s tavern, you’ll have all the basic knowledge necessary to order a drink outside your normal comfort zone with confidence.


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Whiskey (Or is it Whisky?)

The word “whiskey” can be spelled two ways: whiskey or whisky; the spelling of “whisky” depends on where you are located. In the good ole’ U S of A, we spell “whiskey” with an “e,” but in Europe and Canada, whisky is spelled without the “e.”

That is really the only discernible difference between the two. The differences between Scotch and bourbon, on the other hand, are much more numerous and complex.

Whiskey is actually an umbrella term that’s used to describe any drink distilled from fermented grain mash, and “whiskey” includes the following:

  • Scotch
  • Bourbon
  • Rye
  • Irish Whisky

The only exception to the rule for the umbrella term of “whiskey” is that whiskey/whisky can also be used to describe a distilled drink that is made from corn, instead of from grain.

Before going any further, let’s first make sure we understand what is meant by “distilled spirits.” In simplest terms, distillation involves using heat or cold to purify a liquid and separate its components.

So, a distilled beverage (commonly referred to as a “spirit”) is an alcoholic beverage produced by distillation of a mixture produced from alcoholic fermentation.

And what is fermentation? It’s the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. In whiskey production, the components of grains or corn are broken down by other substances (at a distillery), and this is the fermentation process.

The fermented substances are then distilled, and it’s the fermentation and distillation processes that—after some time has passed—produce the distinct tastes bourbon and Scotch drinkers love so much.


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Some other basic facts about the ever-popular drink we refer to as whiskey is that all of it must be distilled at a minimum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) and a maximum of 94.8% ABV.

The differences between the various types of whiskies (which will be covered more thoroughly in blogs coming soon) depend mainly on the type of grain that’s used for the mash, which is the end product of the process known as “mashing.”

In the distilling industry, “mashing” involves combining a mix of milled grain and water, and heating the mixture. Mashing lets the enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars to create a malty liquid referred to as “wort.”

Check back to the blog soon to read about the differences between Scotch and bourbon and to learn more about Rye whisky (or whiskey, depending on where it’s made) and Irish Whisky, a favorite addition to a nice cup of Joe after dinner.

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