It doesn’t take an expert to enjoy a good glass of whiskey. And what pairs better with a cold Christmas night than with the warm spirit? Of course, there can be a learning curve with any quality alcohol. If you find yourself in a bind trying to decide what whiskey to buy an important person in your life this holiday season, you’ll need to be equipped with the right knowledge — whether you’re buying for an amateur or connoisseur alike.
For instance, did you know bourbon, rye and scotch are all types of whiskey, and scotch can only be made in Scotland? Or that Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniels and George Dickel, uses a special charcoal filtering process?
There are many nuances to whiskey, and it’s important to get familiarized with the different options out there. That way, come Christmas, you’ll be able to give a great gift (and also be able to talk about it, too).
We’ve included some tidbits about notable differences between the spirits below. If you get stuck, however, Mint Julep Tours can help. We offer gift certificates and tours to cutting-edge whiskey and bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee — why stop at just a bottle?
A good starting point for enthusiasts are American bourbons and whiskeys. However, there are differences between whiskey and bourbon. The age-old saying is true: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
Whiskey is distilled from fermented grains, usually barley, rye, wheat or corn. These fermented grains are called a “mash bill.” The ratio of grains in the mash bill determines if the liquid is considered whiskey or bourbon.
Within whiskey, there are subsets of other spirits, including bourbon, rye and scotch, which differentiate themselves from standard whiskey by a set of standards and grains.
To be distinguished as bourbon, it must by law have a mash bill of 51% corn. The remaining 49% can be rye, wheat or other grains like malted barley, which will change the flavor profile respectively.
The mash is required to be distilled at 160 proof or less, and placed in a charred oak barrel at 125 proof or less. By law, “straight bourbon” must be aged two years in new oak barrels. It also cannot have any flavorings or color additives in order to receive that label. And to be called bourbon, it must be made in the United States.
Bourbon’s flavor profile usually contains vanilla, oak and caramel notes, with rye bourbon being spicier and wheated bourbon being mellower with a lighter taste.
A true Tennessee whiskey (not to be confused as bourbon) is a solid choice for nearly anyone. Only made in Tennessee, these whiskeys use a special, sugar-maple charcoal filter process for a rich, smooth taste that’s milder than typical bourbons. This charcoal process creates a softer, drier flavor profile with caramel and vanilla notes dominating the palate.
American rye whiskey must be distilled from at least 51% rye mash bill. The remainder is usually corn or malted barley. Rye whiskey follows the same regulations as bourbon and must be aged at least two years to be considered “straight rye whiskey.”
Rye whiskey has a spicier, grainier flavor profile than bourbon, which is known for its characteristic sweetness.
Across the Pond and Beyond
Depending on your budget and local selection, you might opt to try a European or Asian whiskey. Eurasian whiskeys can differ from their American counterparts for their unique flavors that pull from regional influences.
True scotch is made exclusively in Scotland. To be considered a scotch, the spirit must be made from malted barley, and no fermentation additives are allowed. Also, the spirit must be aged for a minimum of three years.
Without getting too technical, there are various regions in Scotland that produce slightly different variations on the spirit. Your main regions are Speyside, Highland, Lowland, and Islay.
For novice scotch enthusiasts, Lowland is a great place to start for scotch. It has a lighter body, and usually a sweet vanilla note from its barrel treatment. However, no matter what region you choose your scotch, they all will have a similar, enjoyable peat smokiness.
Japan, which has extensively studied whiskey production, is known for its subtle smooth, fruity whisky (seen without the “e”) flavors. Japanese whisky has seen a surge in interest in the past few years (for good reason), for its unique style and resemblance to scotch.
Japanese whisky is great for enthusiasts who enjoy the flavor of scotch but want a unique twist with a lot of character.
Still don’t know what to get for that whiskey lover? No worries! Mint Julep Tours offers gift certificates for any budget.
Plus, with Mint Julep making tour stops at famous whiskey and bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee, the enthusiast in your life can enjoy their favorite whiskeys in person with a complimentary tasting and an in-depth, front-row experience tour to cutting-edge whiskey production in the Southeast. What’s not to love?
This Christmas, give the gift of whiskey. It’ll make the holiday season much brighter.
Mint Julep Experiences in Nashville is an upscale tour where you get to experience the culture and craftsmanship of Tennessee. Find the best Tennessee whiskey on your adventure from Nashville to the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg or other popular Tennessee Whiskey Trail tour destinations. We also specialize in putting together exclusive custom tours for groups. Click here to book your tour now, or call us at 615-436-0187 to put together a specialized tour for your group.