Rule 4: Jack Daniel’s Is For Pussies
If vodka is for weak babies, Jack Daniel’s is the vodka of the whiskey world. It isn’t so much that Jack is bad, (but it ain’t great) it is that outside of being drank neat, it isn’t detectable as whiskey, it’s more of a light sweet water. Jack & Coke is something that children vomit from on their birthdays. Much like light beer, Jack’s loyalty lies is the fear of something different and the fear of not knowing what to order in a bar. But I am here to help you understand the whiskey world, because it is the key to camping, business meetings and Manhattans. So think of Jack Daniel’s as barely whiskey, and pick out what little flavors are there and then choose your whiskey path:
Dryer: Irish, this is a broad category of whisky (no “e” is whisky in Ireland, Scotland and Japan) but generally, Irish are lighter bodied but fuller flavored mixes of grain, unmalted and malted barley. They are lightly sweet and have great sublety when sipped straight, with a splash of water, or a rock or two. Try Jameson, then advance to Red Breast and end with Kilbeggan and Connemara.
Sweeter: Canadian, generally sweet, from Canada, always blended by law, means made from several grains including rye. It pains me to say it but if you don’t have a bottle of rye, Canadian whiskeys make great cocktails, and a better Manhattan than Bourbon. You know Crown Royal but try their nicer labels like Cask 16.
Spicier: Rye, generally made in more Northernly parts of America, you know, where they grow rye. Rye has a very dry spicy edge, and when it is the base for a whiskey expect peppery, nutmeg and cinnamon notes. Most rye whiskey is also a blend of grains (rye being over 50%) because the flavor imparted by rye is too intense to not blend. Another way to explain the dry spice of rye would be to point out that it has less sugar than most any other grain, this low yield also makes is more expensive. On the cheap and easy try Old Overholt, for the dry get Wild Turkey Rye (green label) and for the best all around try Rittenhouse 100.
Earthier: Single Malt and Blended Malt Whisky (most people call it Scotch, but only when the whisky is from Scotland, and only if the speaker is not actually Scottish) require explanations of words and laws.
Single Malt: Whisky made from one distillery, made from malted barley.
Blended Malt Whisky: There are 2 main kinds: 1) vatted whisky- a mix of single malts from different distilleries, all malted barley. 2) Blended whiskey- grain whisky blended with malted barley. Blended malt whisky is looked down upon for the simple reason that it is associated with the cheaper whiskies, though some of the world’s greatest whiskies are blended, and even more peculiar, they are malts blended from Japan.
For malts, just go to a good bar with friends and order one whisky from each region of Scotland, you’ll figure it out fast. Just remember, it isn’t all smoke and peat, there is a big world of different malts.
Full Bodied: Bourbon is the American spirit, it is mostly corn and then the rest of the bill is any mix of barley, malted barley, rye and wheat. Bourbon can be made anywhere in America so long as it is at least 366 days old and in new American oak barrels (thanks lumber lobby). Bourbon county blah blah you say? THERE ARE NO DISTILLERIES IN BOURBON COUNTY, IT IS A TINY TOWN IN PART OF KENTUCKY THAT USED TO BE PART OF VIRGINIA! Anyway, other thanrye, Bourbon is the only one of these whiskies that is always going to have that big taste of new oak. Bourbon’s remainder of its malt bill determines much of its flavor, as does the position of the barrel in the rickhouse (big barrel storing building). Some bourbon tips: Maker’s Mark is on the sweet side, Eagle Rare is on the earthy side, Wild Turkey has the spice. Jim Beam is actually a quality one right there in the middle.