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What is whiskey?

Whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Whiskey is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.

Where does whiskey come from?

The world’s first whiskey producers were in Scotland and Ireland, where medieval monks concocted the spirit for medicinal purposes. But whiskey’s roots also run deep in this country. From George Washington, who operated what was once the nation’s largest distillery, to the Tennessee and Kentucky settlers who established local whiskey traditions, whiskey-makers helped shape American history. Canadians built their own whisky history as well, and the Japanese continue to put their Scotch-like stamp on a century of production.

So is it whiskey or whisky?

Throughout our site, you might see some spirit products spelled “whisky” and sometimes “whiskey.” We follow the traditions of the countries where the spirits are produced. In Scotland, Canada and Japan, it’s spelled whisky (or whiskies). In Ireland and the United States, it’s whiskey (whiskeys). When referring to whiskies and whiskeys together, we call them whiskies. Sometimes a producer will bend the rules and use a non-traditional spelling, and we respect the wording on the label when referring to that specific whisky. Or whiskey.

What are the different types of whiskey?

Whiskey comes in many different forms. Some of the more known types are:

How is whiskey made?

No matter where you are, whiskey is basically a grain-based spirit, most often aged in oak barrels. Ireland is thought to have been home to the first commercial whiskey distillers, since production for social enjoyment began in the 16th century. But both Scotland and Ireland lay claim to the birthplaces of what was called uisge beatha in Scotland and uisce beatha in Ireland – the water of life. Local traditions, laws and individual craftsmanship shape the rest of the story. Over time, the basic whiskey recipe of grain and water has evolved in different directions depending on the source ingredients used, distillation methods, types of barrels, the length of aging and the water used in production. In addition, a producer’s “house style” will feature flavors and influences specific to that particular distillery, not unlike the influences represented in single-vineyard wines. The result is a world of whiskeys that span the spectrum of flavors.

How do you drink whiskey?

There are many ways one can drink whiskey. Here are two terms that go hand-in-hand with whiskey drinking:

  • Neat – most whiskey connoisseurs will recommend at least taking your first sip neat, meaning served alone, unmixed and not chilled.
  • On the rocks – since whiskey is a potent, high alcohol content liquor, many prefer to dilute it a bit to lower the alcohol using ice, also know as “rocks”
  • With a few drops of water – also known as “releasing the serpent”, a few drops of water will help open this spirit up and enhance the flavor
  • In a cocktail - there are many of popular whiskey cocktails, including the Whiskey Sour and the Manhattan cocktail. Visit our Cocktail Corner for some whiskey cocktail recipes.

Want to learn more about whiskey?

Visit out Guide to Whiskey / Guide to Whisky to learn even more about its history!