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We're talking whisky this week to get you ready for not only a little Irish diddy with some Jameson, but to brush up on this particular spirit. First, let's clear up the pesky annoyance of spelling which will answer which came first, whiskey or whisky? No etymologist (that's a word-derivation expert) knows exactly why the Irish spelled the wine of their country with an 'e' and why their neighbors across the Irish Sea left the 'e' out. It's often used as an indication that the Irish had the spirits first and because it sounded like a broad 'e' in Gaelic, they started spelling whiskey with the 'e'. Under this theory, when the Scots started making aqua vitae, they wanted to point out the difference between theirs and the Irish, hence no 'e'. That's as good an explanation as any. You'll find a number of different versions of this spirit, so as with anything, watch the label. This can seem a bit complicated at first blush, similar to taking your first stab at reading wine labels, but you'll soon get the hang of it. Here's a quick cheat sheet to get you started:
Single malt whisky is one whisky from one distillery, distilled from 100 percent malted barley.
Single grain whisky is one whisky from one distillery, distilled from one grain or mixture of grains commonly up to 20 percent malted barley and 80 percent other (like wheat or corn).
Vatted or blended malt whisky is the traditional Scottish blended whisky which is single malt whisky from on more than one distillery.
Blended grain whisky is made of a mixture of grain whiskies from more than one distillery.
Blended Scotch whisky is a more recent innovation, is a blend of whiskies, commonly made of 20-40 percent single malt plus 60-80 percent grain whisky.
Let's bring this lesson a bit closer to home. The American cousins are bourbon and whiskey. Bourbon is made in the U.S., produced from mash containing a minimum of 51 percent corn, distilled at less than 160 proof and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels. Tennessee whiskey is made in Tennessee (duh), and is the same as bourbon, EXCEPT its filtered through a column of charcoal made from Tennessee sugar maple trees.
While you are out and about in Door County, keep a careful eye out for a few hidden gems that might be on the back bar or side shelf somewhere. Pay attention to whiskey's color, from clear to warm golden or deep brown. Inhale the aromas often described as leafy, flowery, grassy or leathery, and sometimes more toward the notes of wooden barrels like buttery, nutty, smoky, piney, tobacco, or vanilla scents. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys seem to have a milder taste to me, with sweet flavor that goes well with salty, before dinner appetizers. After dinner you can pleasantly sip these with dessert too. Bourbon is especially good with chocolate.
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