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Understanding Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye Whisk(e)y

Are you a lover of warm, brown liquors? If so, then you’ve probably spent countless hours mulling over labels, descriptions, and the alcohol content of many bottles of Scotch Whisky, rye whiskey, and bourbon, all of which are tantalizing dark liquors in their own rights. But do you know what makes Scotch Scotch and bourbon bourbon? If you’re not fully sure, then today’s post from Northstar Liquor Superstore in Johnstown is just what you’ve been looking for.

Specializing in fine Scotch, the best bourbon, and elite rye whiskeys, Northstar Liquor Superstore has a highly educated staff who can help you find the perfect bottle for any occasion from poker night with the friends to celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary and everything in between.

Stop by today and talk to one of our friendly whiskey experts, or continue reading to learn more about the differences between the many styles of whiskey, examples of each style, and common cocktails you can order to experience the full range of the “water of life.”

Just have a question or want to see if we have your favorite bottle in stock? Give us a call, or shoot us a quick online form, and we will be sure to get back to you promptly.

 

What Does All Whisk(e)y Have In Common?

No matter how you choose to spell the word — and trust us, there is plenty of debate and no universal rule for this — all types of whiskey have something in common, regardless of their components, color, or country of origin.

All whiskey is made from fermented grain mash, typically barley, corn, rye, and/or wheat, and then aged in white oak casks that have been charred on the inside. This wood charring process is what gives whiskey its often caramel to brown coloring, while the common undertones of vanilla and wood that are common come from the actual wood used in the barrel.

Outside of that, distillers have the freedom to craft and experiment within the guidelines of their respective types of whiskey, all of which are clearly outlined below.

Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky is spelled without an “e.” However, that is possibly the smallest difference between Scotch and other types of whiskey, as Scotch is defined and ruled by some pretty rigorous standards of productions as set forth by the Scotch Whisky Association.

To start, Scotch must be malted, casked, and produced in one of the six — five if you’re a purist — Scotch producing regions of Scotland. Additionally, Scotch isn’t Scotch until has been oaked for a minimum of three years and one day, although most single malt varieties spend the first 10 years of their life — minimum — on oak.

For many years, Scotch had to be made with 100% malted barley and was often distilled in pot stills, although in more recent times simply being made with at least 51% malted barley — like many of the Lowland Scotches which incorporate a fair amount of wheat —  and using larger stills has been enough to be considered a true Scotch. Don’t be surprised if you find people who disagree and stick to their guns with older, single malt Scotch.

Popular Scotch Brands

Scotch has a reputation for being smokey, or peaty, a flavor that comes from the process of smoking the barley over peat — decomposed plant parts that provide a constant burn, much like coal. Peat, which is plentiful in Scotland, is easier and cheaper to use for smoking than wood from trees. But not all Scotch Whisky is peaty, especially whisky from the regions of Speyside and the Lowlands.

Below are some popular brands of Scotch worth trying:

  • Arbelour (Speyside)
  • Ardbeg (Islay)
  • Balvenie (Speyside)
  • Bowmore (Islay)
  • Cardhu (Speyside)
  • Dalwhinnie (Highland/Speyside)
  • Glenfiddich (Speyside)
  • Glenlivet (Speyside)
  • Glenmorangie (Highland)
  • Highland Park (Island)
  • Jura (Island)
  • Lagavulin (Islay)
  • Laphroaig (Islay)
  • Macallan (Speyside)
  • Speyburn (Speyside)
  • Talisker (Island)

Scotch Cocktails Worth Trying

Fair warning — Scotch enthusiasts who see you reading this might have a conniption. Many Scotch drinkers adamantly believe that there are only two ways to enjoy Scotch — on the rocks and neat. But in case you’re more of the adventurous type, here are a few different cocktails built around Scotch to look for on your local fine dining menus.

  • Blood & Sand: Scotch, Cherry Liqueur, Orange Juice, Sweet Vermouth
  • Rusty Nail: Scotch, Honey Liqueur or Honey Whiskey, Lemon Zest
  • Penicillin: Scotch, Islay Single Malt Scotch (peaty), Lemon Juice, Honey Syrup, Ginger Juice, Candied Ginger
  • Rob Roy: Scotch, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters, Lemon Zest

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon is an American tradition if ever there was one. Named after an area called “Old Bourbon,” in Kentucky — a name that likely held over from the influence of early French trappers in the region.

Where Scotch is distilled from barley, bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash to earn its name. Additionally, legal parameters also demand that bourbon be stored in charred oak barrels, often times American white oak, and have no additives whatsoever.

Many less expensive brands of bourbon are known as “sour mash” bourbon whiskey, a process by which some of the previous batch of mash is held over to help jump start the next, much like when a baker makes sourdough bread. This process helps speed up the fermentation process and provides consistency for large batch whiskeys.

Popular Bourbon Brands

There are literally hundreds of varieties of bourbon that you can find ranging in price from alarmingly cheap to prohibitively costly. We’ve tried to include — in no particular order — a wide variety below that can help you discover the entire range of this homegrown libation.

  • Jim Beam
  • Old Forester
  • Jack Daniels
  • Bulleit
  • Four Roses
  • Knob Creek
  • Maker’s Mark
  • Eagle Rare
  • Blanton’s
  • Basil Hayden’s
  • Booker’s

Bourbon Cocktails Worth Trying

Unlike Scotch, bourbon mixes well and many people prefer it in a cocktail as opposed to drinking the sweet, warm liquor straight. Here are a few bourbon cocktails to keep an eye out for.

Old Fashioned: Bourbon, Bitters, Sugar Cube, Orange OR Lemon Peel (depending on where you order it)

Manhattan: Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters, Cherry

Whiskey Smash: Bourbon, Spearmint, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup

Sidecar: Bourbon, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Lemon OR Orange Peel (depending on where you order it)

Rye Whiskey

Finally, we come to rye whiskey. Rye whiskey may be the trickiest of the bunch. By now, you’ve probably guessed that a rye whiskey must be made up of at least 51% rye mash, and you’d be right — most of the time. Rye whiskey must also be aged for a minimum of two years on oak.

However, in general, Canadian whiskey is also called “rye,” regardless of whether it contains any rye grain at all. Oh, Canada.

Popular Rye Whiskey Brands

Despite spending many years relegated to a secondary role in the American whiskey world, due to the sheer volume of corn production and the affordability of bourbon in the U.S., rye is making a strong comeback. Take a look for these popular rye whiskey brands at Northstar Liquor Superstore in Johnstown the next time you are in.

  • Templeton Rye
  • Bulleit “95” Rye
  • Sazerac Rye
  • Whistlepig “Straight Rye”
  • High West “Double Rye”

Rye Cocktails Worth Trying

Rye grain whiskey has a strong, distinct taste and feel that “speaks up” well in many different kinds of cocktail. Here are a few classics that every “rye-guy” (or gal) should try.

  • Alabama Slammer: Rye, Gin, Orange Juice, Amaretto, Orange, Cherry
  • Monte Carlo: Rye, Black Currant Liqueur, Pimms Cup No 1, Bitters
  • Volstead: Rye, Swedish Punsch, Orange Juice, Raspberry Juice, Anisette
  • Milwaukee: Rye, Apricot Brandy, Maraschino Cherry

 

Find The Perfect Whisk(e)y For You At Northstar Liquor Superstore

At Northstar Liquor Superstore in Johnstown, we pride ourselves on our large inventory, knowledgeable staff, and low prices. We’re certain that we’ve got a bottle of Scotch, rye whiskey, or bourbon that is just dying to meet you. Stop by today and discover your new favorite brand.