The Mayflower pilgrims may have brought whisky to America from the European shores. But in the course of last 300 years, American whisky has found its own distinguished place in the whisky universe, analogous to the country’s history.
One of the world’s largest producer of whiskey, within America there are further classifications with unique ingredients and production methodologies. Today the main classifications are governed by the federal law with regards to production and ageing processes.
Following are the broad styles into which American whiskey is categorized:
Move past KFC. Bourbon is Kentucky’s original gift to the world. Albeit today, it can be produced across the United States. Bourbon is perhaps America’s most native whiskey. Norms dictate that it contain 51% corn and the new spirit must be distilled below 80% ABV. Maturation has to be for a minimum of two years in a new American white oak barrel.
American white oak has a distinctive high level of natural oil called “Vanillin” giving Bourbon its characteristic woody vanilla flavour. As opposed to Scotland and Ireland, the exposure to high temperature in America with the combination of new barrels together hastens the maturation process. The law also prevents distilleries from the use of any colourings or flavour additions. There are today seven Bourbon distilleries producing a gamut of brands using their distinctive formulas.
The home of Gentleman Jack. Tennessee whiskey is often confused with Bourbon due to negligible differences between the two. The difference is two-fold. One, Tennessee is produced in the state of Tennessee.
Two, the new-make spirit is filtered through charcoal once distilled, a process known as “Lincoln County Process”. The charcoal mellowing creates a softer, drier profile than bourbon. These differences apart, maturation and other aspects of production remain similar between Tennessee and Bourbon. The two lone distilleries which fall under this category are Jack Daniels & George Dickel.
This is American history in a bottle. This was the first whiskey that the new settlers to America distilled, as corn was easy to grow and possibly also since it was cheaper than any other ingredient. Lest you think, Corn whiskey is an archaic moonshine from the 1700s, regulations dictate 80% corn in their mash bill, aged in un-charred previously used oak barrels. Maturation is for extremely short duration such as six months.
These whiskies are 51% rye. Mostly used in the production of blends, their ABV and maturation standards are similar to Bourbon & Tennessee.
Wheat whiskey is demure, delicate, and soft on the palate. Ought to contain 51% wheat in the mash mix, wheat whiskey is rarely released on its own as most gets into blends. The maturation is similar to Bourbon/ Tennessee & Rye.
In quite a contrast to the Scottish and Irish whiskies, blended whisky uses a very minor percentage of the matured whiskey in the blend. 20% of the blend is matured spirit and 80% is neutral spirit.
This is straight from the barrel. Unaged whiskey, also called white/ white dog whiskey, this is bottled directly after distillation after adding water to reduce its alcoholic strength. These whiskies are usually launched to flaunt a distillery’s craft prowess in its rawest form, i.e. without maturation.