Monday, April 7, 2014

One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Rye

I did not know this until maybe three years ago.

Bourbon, Scotch and Rye are all types of whiskey.  Please don’t judge me; I don’t drink much liquor and only became aware of the difference when selecting spirits to serve guests at my annual holiday party.  Older daughter’s beau finally educated me on the fine art of selecting a different blend of each type of whiskey.  He made me that drink you see right there.

Now, it’s a taste-a-rama.  Then, I saw this article in the New York Times, and you know I love the New York Times, about a Bourbon-Rye Blend from Wild Turkey. 

I decided to buy a bottle for this year’s holiday shindig.

It was a hit.

I would imagine most people, unlike me, know the difference between these three spirits and to those, I apologize if the following tutorial seems a bit elementary.  For all others, please read on and be enlightened.

All whiskeys are made with a grain, water and yeast.  The yeast eats the sugar – the grain used – and the byproduct is alcohol.  Then the entire concoction is distilled, which is the process of separating the grain pieces and other fermentation matter from the liquid, now alcohol.  The more the liquid is distilled, the smoother the flavor of the finished product.  After distillation, all whiskey is aged in oak barrels.  Oak is used because it is a pure wood and environmental notes in the wood often contribute to the taste to the finished product.

Bourbon is frequently associated with the great Commonwealth of Kentucky (did you know that Kentucky was a Commonwealth, along with Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia) and it is made primarily from ground corn, at least 51%.  The mixture is aged (ideally for four years) in new, charred oak barrels. 

Kentucky is playing in the NCAA final game against UConn, who beat St. Joe's and Villanova.  Go Wildcats.

American Rye whiskey, true to it’s name, is made with at least 51% of the rye grain.  Before prohibition, Rye whiskey was the Bourbon of the Northeast, and the production epicenter was located in Pittsburgh, PA.  Rye is also aged in charred, oak barrels for at least two years.   

Scotch is made predominately with malted barley and, as its name suggests, is native to Scotland.  The smoky flavor or “peatiness” of Scotch occurs when the barley is dried in kilns fired using peat. Sometimes, the barrels used to age Bourbon are shipped to Scotland to age the Scotch. Scotch also matures in oak casks for a minimum of three years. 

I word about peat.  Peat is lumps of decayed vegetation such as grasses, mosses, fungi, trees, insects that accumulate in a “bog” and is highly flammable.  Peat is used like wooden logs in Ireland, and when burned, produces a soothing, organic aroma.  Brother tried to bring some home from Ireland last year but Custom officials deprived him of that opportunity.   Below is a photo taken while at a historic bog village in Ireland that displays a typical pile of peat.  And a bike.

So, now we know the difference between Bourbon, Rye and Scotch and rather than merely read this new, useful knowledge and say “that was interesting,” I offer a recipe.  You can use any whiskey, but Bourbon is particularly good.

Bourbon Smash
Recipe courtesy of Geoffrey Zakarian
Form:  Food Network’s The Kitchen

3/4 ounce simple syrup
8 fresh mint leaves, plus 1 sprig, for garnish
3 lemon wedges
2 ounces bourbon
Splash of ginger ale or sparkling water

Put the simple syrup, mint leaves and lemon wedges into a cocktail shaker and muddle them until the lemons are broken down. Add the bourbon and fill the shaker with ice; using a long cocktail spoon, stir vigorously until very cold.

Fill a rocks glass with ice and use a fine strainer to strain the drink into the glass. Put the mint sprig in the palm of one hand and gently smack it with the fingers of your other hand (this releases the oils and fragrance). Finish off with a splash of ginger ale or sparkling water. Garnish the drink with the sprig and serve.

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