American Whiskey is often thought of exclusively as bourbon, but it has a few cousins that make up a big chunk of the market.
Distillation technology most likely came from Irish or Scottish migrants who were used to making whiskey in their own climates and with their own resources. Upon landing in America, the most abundant resources they came across were grains and, surprisingly, corn. Bourbon is made from a minimum of 51 per cent corn content, with the rest made up of wheat and/or rye. There are a few more rules too, it has to be aged for a minimum of two years and must be aged in new, white American oak. This means there is always a mass of empty barrels and most of them get sold around the world to age other spirits like rum, Scottish whiskey and cognac.
Bourbon isn’t the only whiskey to emerge from America. Historically, rye whiskey would have been the most prevalent, with a minimum 51 per cent rye content. It’s making a huge comeback now, especially among bartenders, because of its less sweet palate and spicier, richer notes. It’s great in classics such as Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, but perfect as a mixer with dry ginger ale too.
There’s also Tennessee Whiskey, with Jack Daniel’s being the biggest of the bunch. It’s made a in a similar way to bourbon, but employs a filtration process with maple charcoal, making it much sweeter and smoother. Referred to as ‘The Lincoln County Process’, you’ll thank us next time it comes up in Trivial Pursuit.
While the bourbon and cola combo has been the staple drink, we’re seeing a resurgence in American whiskey cocktails the world over. Driven by evolving palates and a love of everything that features in Mad Men, the tables have turned with the revival of old cocktails using bourbon and rye. The drive towards rye has been particularly strong, with many brands expanding their distilleries to keep up with the new demand.
As with many classic drinks, history tends to repeat itself.