4 Factors That Make (or Break) a Whiskey
Rye, bourbon, scotch… they’re all whiskeys, but nothing like one another. So, what exactly makes them good – or bad, for that matter? How do you choose a good whiskey? How do you know what kind of whiskey you like? Well, we can’t promise the answers to all of those questions – not today, at least – but we can help you learn a little bit about what makes a whiskey taste the way it does.
Before you start experimenting with different drink mixes and beverage ingredients, it’s important to have a grasp on these four factors…
Wheat, Grains, Rye, & Corn
The main factor that determines how a whiskey tastes is what’s actually in the whiskey. Whiskey can be made from wheat, rye, corn, and other grains. Bourbon, for example, must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn. This results in a sweeter taste. Looking for a great bourbon drink? Try an Old Fashioned for a true bourbon classic.
Similarly, the grain mixture in rye must be made from at least 51% rye. Rye has a much spicier and/or fruitier flavor when compared to bourbon. The Manhattan is easily the most famous rye cocktail.
Types of Barrels
Next to the actual beverage ingredients, the type of barrel used for aging is probably the next most important factor that “makes” a whiskey. Most whiskeys use white oak barrels. Oftentimes – as is the case with bourbon and many Tennessee whiskeys – the barrels are charred to impart a caramelized flavor and reddish brown color.
The Aging Process
Of course, whiskey doesn’t go in a barrel and out the other end the next day. There’s a significant aging process involved in making whiskey. Generally speaking, the longer a whiskey is aged the better. Even this rule has its limits though. After about 30 years, whiskey takes a nosedive in quality. It’s important to note that, unlike wine, whiskey does not “age” or improve once it’s bottled and in the consumer’s hands.
The last major factor in determining a whiskey’s taste is how the distiller chooses to blend it. Whiskey barrels can vary greatly from one to the next, depending on age, where they were stored in the warehouse, the seasons they’ve endured, etc. Virtually all distillers blend barrels to produce a final product that becomes a “signature blend.”