What Is Whiskey, Really?

What Is Whiskey, Really?

This is part 1 of a multi-series intro to whiskey.


Yeast + sugar (without oxygen) = alcohols + carbon dioxide

Yeast “eat” sugar and turn into different types of alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s called fermentation

The type of alcohols we end up with depends on where the sugar comes from. In wine, the sugar comes from grapes. In whiskey, the sugar comes from grains or malt. But what comes after fermentation is what gives whiskey much higher alcohol levels. 


Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from grains or malt. Notice in Level One we said fermentation creates alcohols, plural. That’s because fermentation leads to ethanol, which we drink, and other alcohols. For whiskey we just want ethanol. This is where distillation comes in. Distillation of whiskey is the process of separating ethanol from the other chemicals to isolate it.

The isolated ethanol ends up in gas form. As a gas, it is transferred to a different location from the other byproducts of fermentation and cooled until it becomes a liquid again. Think of it like the water cycle: A liquid evaporates, forms a cloud (condensates), then rains back down as good ol’ alcohol (precipitates.) 


There are a lot of whiskeys, but a few of the most popular in the U.S. include:

Bourbon: Made from at least 51% corn, an American whiskey, warm, sweet flavor

Rye: Made from at least 51% rye, an American whiskey, has a spice kick

Tennessee: Bourbon made in TN with further specifying regulations, has a smooth flavor

Irish whiskey: Many varieties, most popular being Jameson, also known as uisce beatha "water of life"

Scotch whisky*: Made from malted barley, wheat, corn, and/or grain, aged for at least three years, very smooth, made in Scotland

Canadian whisky*: Whisky made in Canada (also called Canadian rye), doesn't have to include at least 51% rye like U.S. ryes, warmer and smoother than U.S. rye

Japanese whisky*: Whisky made in Japan, inspired by Scotch style of using a lot of barley

There is a lot that goes into the world of whiskey. This article just barely touched the pre-reqs! Which whiskey would you like to be featured?

*This is not a typo! The US and Ireland typically spell it with an 'e' while Scotland and Canada typically do not.

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