American Whiskey 101

All (well most of) the important information and a few myths busted about American Whiskey!

This Saturday (18 May) is World Whisky Day, and while we love whisky no matter the country in which it is made (as long as it's actually whisky), we thought we'd take the opportunity to spend some time talking about a major category of whisky that we've yet to give a heap of attention to, American Whiskey!

So we’ve partnered with Jack Daniel's Australia to bring you American Whiskey Month. We’ve got new products, Australian exclusives, whiskey facts, cocktails, a great competition and more! It is definitely worth exploring the category as American whiskey has come a long way from our younger days of JD and coke (although these still hit the spot from time to time even now).

First up, everything you need to know about American Whiskey!

What is American Whiskey?

American Whiskey is a pretty broad term for any kind of grain or grain mash that has been fermented, distilled and then aged in an oak vessel - usually a barrel or hogshead - of some kind for a minimum of two years in the United States. Unless you are referring to Corn Whiskey which can be sold straight off the still.

Why is there an ‘e’ in American Whiskey (most of the time)?

The answer to this could be an article in itself – the most widely accepted TLDR reason seems to be that Irish Whiskey was considered more premium than Scottish back in the day so the Irish spelling was adopted to help bolster consumer confidence in local whiskey.  Historically it was referred to in regulations and laws as whisky. So both work, just the ‘e’ version holds the upper hand these days.

Jack Daniel's Bottles

Is all American Whiskey Bourbon?

No - but this is important - Bourbon is a protected Geographical Indication and as such, officially, ‘Bourbon’ can only be made in the United States. Similar to Champagne really, where the same kind of product can actually be made elsewhere but must be marketed as a sparkling white wine or something else as Champagne can only be used on the label when produced in that region.

What is Moonshine?

Until 2010, illegal, typically white, un-aged whiskey, generally made from a high percentage of corn for yield/availability. Since 2010, a term for both illegal and legally produced white whiskey.  Some moonshine, just to be annoying and contrary, is aged for around 6 months.  If its legal and aged for more than two years, it’s probably a bourbon!

Spirit Run

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is probably the most famous of the American made whiskies.  Often associated with Kentucky, Bourbon can in fact be made anywhere in the US.  The major restrictions (paraphrased) are:

  • It must be made in America.
  • It must be made of a grain mixture of at least 51% corn.
  • Aged in virgin (brand new) charred oak containers.
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% ABV) during distillation.
  • Filled into a barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV).
  • Bottled at no LESS than 80 proof (40% ABV).
  • Tastes like whiskey (the hard one).

If Bourbon regulations state Bourbon must be bottled at 40% ABV or more, how do we have some Bourbon in Australia bottled at 37%-40%?

The short answer is that all the rules above that apply to Bourbon actually only apply to Bourbon sold and consumed in the US. In Australia 37% ABV is the legal minimum for a spirit so to save money / make products more affordable, some American whiskies are sold in Australia bottled at 37% and up.

What other kinds of American Whiskey are there?

Besides Bourbon, America produces a lot of differing styles of whiskey, including but not limited to; Corn Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Single Malt Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, Kentucky Bourbon etc. We’ll dive into some of this a bit more in future articles and revisions.

Barrels

What are American Whiskies made from?

Most American whiskey is made from corn/wheat/malted barley and rye in varying amounts.  Other grains can and have been used, like quinoa and millet for example but the vast majority use some combination of corn/wheat/malted barley or rye.

What type of barrels do American Whiskies get matured in?

Same as the rest of the world – pretty much any kind of oak barrel/container.  By and large though, thanks to the Bourbon/Tennessee whiskey regulations and the politically influential, sustainable forestry industry set up to supply whiskey makers, typically virgin American white oak. 

Fighting.jpeg

How long has American Whiskey been a thing for?

Since Irish/Scottish immigrants arrived in the US and had excess grain.  Its importance grew after the American War of Independence as a kind of push back against rum which was popular among the British. Some historians believe a tax imposed on sugar in the American Colony helped bring the War of Independence about! America even had a whiskey rebellion in 1791 against its own fledgling government.

Is it wrong to drink American Whiskey with Coke?

No. Or any other mixer/s.  Is it for everyone? Also no. The stigma around JD and/or Jim Beam or any other whiskey/whisky for that matter and Coke is kind of silly. It certainly doesn’t mean everyone has to drink American whiskey with mixers, but if people enjoy it that way, more power to them!

Why are glass/crystal tumblers the drinking vessel of choice in a lot of American whiskey photos?

Purely speculative here:

  • They look cool.
  • They are practical as they can be used for sipping whiskey over ice or in a cocktail.
  • Madmen (although this could serve as a pretty good drink responsibly campaign too).
  • They feel pleasingly solid and more 'grown up' than a shot glass.

Whisky on the rocks

Why do so many pictures of people drinking American whiskey show them with ice in their glass?

  • It looks cool.
  • A lot of people like ice in their drink. It can help make a whiskey more approachable by reducing the ‘intensity’ of the nose and or palate. It can also make a whiskey more attractive/sippable on a hot day.
  • Why not?

Hope you enjoyed learning about American Whiskey. Next up we’ll be exploring whiskey cocktails with the new Jack Daniel's Rye!

Cheers!