Whiskey (and Whisky)
--By Mike Armstrong
Photos by Niki Le Roux and James L. Tinker Translated
by Liu Fang Ru
Mike Armstrong is a veteran Taiwan-based
bartender and owner of Taichung's fM bar and restaurant.
"Whisky" or "whiskey",
which is the correct spelling? Both are. Of the
four notable whiskey-producing countries, Scotland
and Canada spell it without the "e",
while Ireland and the United States keep that
vowel. The term whiskey comes from the Gaelic
words "usque baugh", meaning "water
of life". Later, the slang word "usky"
took over and from that the English word whiskey
evolved. So, now that we've hooked you on the
word, let's understand the product itself a bit
water and yeast--are easily obtainable. The difference
between whiskies comes from the distillation methods,
the type of yeast used, the kinds of wood used
for aging, the size of the barrel the liquor is
stored in, the length of time for barrel aging,
the water source used and, most important, the
type of grain (corn, rye, wheat, barley, oats)
used, and in what proportions.
There are five steps which serve
as a blueprint for all whiskies worldwide: cooking
the grains (also called malting), mashing (to
prepare the grainy liquid for fermentation), fermentation
(taking place in another vat where yeast is introduced),
distillation (where the final product is formed),
and maturation (the aging process). Once done,
you look at the purity, aromatic and flavor properties,
and, finally, the finish.
With that whirlwind summary done,
let's get to those bottles on the bar shelf, limited
this time to the Canadian whiskies (with others
to be covered in future editions). Canadian whiskies,
including Canadian Club, Crown Royal, Black Velvet,
and Canadian Mist, are called "Ryes"
with the misconception they are made only with
rye. Actually the dominant cereal is corn. Most
find Canadian whisky much smoother, milder and
mellower in taste and slightly sweeter than American
counterparts. The more aged, the better the flavor,
so Canadian Club 12-year-old is a favorite. Crown
Royal has hints of vanilla and cherry and can
be done in shots. Although these whiskies aren't
all ryes, ordering Rye and Ginger Ale will always
get you a Canadian whiskey and nothing else (although
Old Grandad--a bourbon--has almost twice the rye
of other whiskeys).
Now, you ask, what is a bourbon
and isn't it true that Jack Daniels isn't a bourbon?
You're right, it isn't. Stay tuned for another
edition of Cocktail Cool to find out more about
the mysterious world of the water of life.