Whiskies of the World
Q: With the Whiskies of the World Show coming up on November 23rd, I need a primer of what's what in the whisky world. Can you help?
A: Good day! In a few short months I will celebrate my five year anniversary as the NLC’s Senior Product Knowledge Consultant. When I started no one really knew what this newly created position would entail. One of my first duties was to recruit and develop NLC clerks who I saw future potential in. Through multiple NLC educational seminars and ISG (International Sommelier Guild) classes I came to meet Chris Dowden. Chris is a third generation NLCer who has been with the Corporation since December of 2004. His passion for all-things-whiskey is unmatched here at the NLC, and I have learned a lot from him over the years regarding this subject. Chris is a self-taught whisky aficionado who has been lucky enough to discover a job that enables him to work closely with, and serve those, that have similar likes. If any of you have any whisky questions I would encourage you to hunt out Mr.Dowden, as he is a wealth of knowledge and is very fond of sharing this information with anyone who will listen! For those attending the upcoming Whiskey Show on Friday November 23rd,2012, Chris will be front row and center. Other than on that night Chris can usually be found plying his trade at the NLC’s Kelsey Drive location. As my go-to whisky guy I have asked Chris to enlighten us with some relevant whisky information. Please read on to see what one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most knowledgeable and passionate whisky experts has to share.
Whiskey starts as a grain based liquid (barley, corn, rye, or other cereal grains) that is fermented to produce alcohol. This product is similar to the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, beer. Next the fermented juice is distilled to separate the unwanted water and colours and leave behind a spirit with more concentrated alcohol and the natural flavours imparted by the grain. This spirit is then aged in barrels to add additional flavours as well as the golden to amber colour that you see in the final product. Aging will vary and is quite often the deciding factor in the value of the Whiskey when it is released. There are quite a few variables involved in these steps that we won’t discuss right now but I’m sure we will get the opportunity to cover these in more detail in the future. This week will be all about the 4 major types of Whiskey and the differences in each. These are Canadian Whiskey or Rye, Bourbon Whiskey, Scotch, and Irish Whisky.
Canadian or Rye whiskey is currently the largest selling Whiskey product in Newfoundland and Labrador. Rye is a type of grain commonly grown in the prairie regions of Canada however, in some cases a Canadian whiskey may not contain much Rye at all. In fact, by law Canadian whiskey can contain a combination of a variety of grains providing Rye is one of them and still be called a Rye whiskey. This gives the distilleries a great amount of freedom to create unique and interesting products which has resulted in the vast selection of Canadian whiskies we see in stores today. The only requirement placed on distillers of “Rye” whiskey is that they be aged no less than 3 years in barrels no larger than 700 litres. This improves the smoothness of the whiskey and adds flavour and colour. Canadian whiskies are known for their smoothness and balance and are often enjoyed with Ginger Ale or as part of your favourite cocktail.
Bourbon Whiskey originally comes from the southern United States and is made primarily of corn spirits. All Bourbons must contain at least 51% corn based spirits with the remainder containing any combination of rye, wheat, and barley. Because of its corn base, bourbon tends to show less flavour from the grain than other whiskies, so they rely on oak aging to provide much of this. Bourbon is always aged in new American oak barrels that have been charred on the inside to add a toasted characteristic to the end product. These whiskies tend to have a more intense flavour profile with a longer finish than Canadian whiskies, and are commonly consumed straight or with ice or water.
Scotch is the world’s most recognized and desired whiskey product. It has a long history which has molded it to become the incredible product it is today (can you tell it’s my favourite). Scotch is made from 100% barley grains which are almost always malted. Malting is a process in which grains are mashed in water to germinate and the mash is dried with hot air or peat smoke to stop the germination process. If you ever hear somebody ask for a “peaty” Scotch, read the label and if you see mention of smoke you have the right product. The distilled product is always aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Often these barrels are Bourbon casks which have been shipped from the United States. The end product, depending on the steps taken, can result in anything from a light, smooth whiskey with citrus notes to a robust and smokey whiskey full of flavour with a long finish. These beverages are often enjoyed on their own or with ice, but some are also perfect for blending with your favourite mix.
Irish whiskey speaks for a very small portion of whiskey sales worldwide, but has a following in Newfoundland thanks to our special Irish connection. They are very similar to Scotch in that they are created from 100% barley grains. The major difference is that they are commonly a blend of malted and unmalted spirits. This makes for a whiskey with milder flavours that will generally be less complex but very smooth to the taste. Irish whiskey is commonly consumed with ice or water but has been known to make great cocktails as well.
Thanks to Andrew Facey for the opportunity to be a part of this great learning tool.