Friday, November 6, 2009

Bourbon v. Scotch

What is the difference between Bourbon, Jack Daniel’s, Scotch, and Whiskey? This question came up last night at Ken’s birthday party. Of coarse, I had already had a few glasses of Courvoisier (cognac is a type of brandy, from the Cognac region of France, made from very specific grapes, and made in a very specific way, by French law… however this will have to be for another day), so my answer was not as clear as it should have been. So, for further clarification…..

Whiskey is a type of alcohol made of fermented grain mash. Grains may include barley, malted barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Usually, it is then aged in a cask. It retains some of its grain characteristics, differentiating it form a neutral spirit like vodka.

Bourbon is a type of corn whiskey. The name of the spirit originates for an area of the United States - Bourbon County. This county was originally part of the state of Virginia, but eventually became part of the new state of Kentucky (founded in 1786). The county seat is Paris, Kentucky, named out of respect for the French government for supporting the American Revolutionary War.

On May 4,1964, the United States Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a "distinctive product of the United States." The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5.22) state that bourbon must meet certain requirements, which include that bourbon must be made with a grain mix of at least 51% corn and must be aged in charred oak barrels. In addition, it may not be distilled above 160 U.S. proof.

Technically, Bourbon can be made anywhere in the USA, however 95% of all the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky.

Old Crow is great – it come in a plastic jug, is cheap, and tastes great. Doctor James C. Crow was a Scot who invented sour mash. We thank him.

So what is Jack Daniel’s, besides pure deliciousness? It is a Tennessee whiskey, made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. It is NOT bourbon as defined by Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter 1, Part 5, Section 5.22. It is a sour mash filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to aging in barrels. The ingredients are water, corn, malted barley, and rye. The sugar maple charcoal gives it that sweetness and the aging in oak barrels gives it color.

And Scotch? It is a whiskey. By international law, it must be distilled in Scotland. It is made with different grains and blends, distilled 2 or 3 times, aged in different casks, and sometimes treated with peat for a smoky flavor. There are many, many, many different kinds: blended, single malts, oak cask flavored with wines etc…etc…etc…