Whiskey has made a return in the drinking world, in a big way. Maybe Mad Men is to blame, or Damages, but either way, young and old folks alike are sippin' on dat scotch. Or was it rye that you're drinking? Or Irish whiskey? What the hell is the difference anyway?

Many different types of whiskey exist, and its hard to keep track, so don't feel bad if you're lost in the Whiskey world. Chances are, most of your whiskey drinking pals are right their with you. To make sure you don't look like a poser, here is everything you need to know about whiskey to look cool.

The Basics

Before we go anywhere, let's define exactly what the category of whiskey is. In essence, whiskey is any alcohol distilled from fermented grain mash. Differences between whiskeys stem from the type of grain used for the mash, but all must have a 40% alcohol content, to maintain manliness levels.

Scotch

Ron Burgundy's favourite whiskey is made from malted barley, and usually just water and yeast are added. To qualify as scotch, it must also be aged in oak casks for at least three years, and much like true Champagne, you can't call it scotch unless it comes from Scotland.

Even scotch has subcategories, making it more complex. Here's the breakdown:

  • Single Malt: made only from barley and water in a single distillery.
  • Single Grain: like single malt, only other grains may be added. The 'single' refers to the distillery, not the number of grains.
  • Blended Malt: a blend of two (or more) single malt Scotches from different distilleries.
  • Blended Grain: a blend of two (or more) single grain Scotches from different distilleries.
  • Blended Scotch: a mix of single malt and single grain.

Bourbon

Otherwise known as American whiskey, bourbon is made with a grain mix that must be 51% corn. Bourbon cannot exceed more than 80% alcohol (160 proof) and is aged in new charred oak barrels.

Tennessee whiskey (Jack Daniels) is technically bourbon, only made in Tennessee and is warrants a different name because of how the alcohol is put through a charcoal filtering process.

Rye

Canada's claim to whiskey fame is Rye, known internationally as Canadian whiskey as well. We've been brewing batches of rye for nearly as long as Canada has existed, and the only 'rule' is that rye is a grain in the mix (obviously). Different brewers have varying ratios of rye in their mixes, but you can use rye and Canadian whiskey interchangeably, as they basically refer to the same thing.

Irish Whiskey

There are some legit rules to follow when it comes to Irish Whiskey, as established in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 (Yes, this is a thing) but all you need to know is that real Irish Whiskey needs to come from Ireland. The brewers there will take care of the rest.

Flavour

Facts and brewing methods are all well and good, but what about the taste? Here are the dominant features of the whiskeys mentioned to help guide you. Be aware though, that these are very general comments, as distilleries can vastly vary in flavour even though its the same type of whiskey.

Scotch: Can be varied as hell depending on the region (from fruity to smokey) but all have an undertone of sweetness.

Bourbon: Typically have a big vanilla, oak and caramel notes, made a bit sweeter due to the corn in the mix.

Tenessee: Much like it's Bourbon brother, but with a smoother finish.

Rye: Dry and hard, Rye will usually have nutty flavour notes and a spicy quality.

Irish: Very smooth, Irish whiskey also has a nutty/woody quality akin to Sherry

Now get drinking everyone, just beware of whiskey dick!

What is your favorite brand of whiskey?

For more on drinking and being cool, follow Michael on Twitter @MDAlimonte
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