The History of Whiskey

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At Christmas time, the Irish coffees flow freely in my household. My husband is very generous with his serve of alcohol, to the point where the steaming hot beverage is almost lukewarm! The last time we enjoyed an Irish coffee, we had quite an in-depth conversation about the origins of the bottle of Jim Beam that was rapidly being devoured, and this led to an discussion about how whiskey came to be created.

What is Whiskey?

A delightful combination of various different grains, including barley, wheat,
corn and rye, the actual make-up of the spirit depends on which country it
comes from. Distilled in many places around the world, the tipple is most
popular in India. If you are hoping to get a glug of Indian whiskey, you will
have to visit the country itself, since very little is exported.

Where Did the Spirit Come From?

Like many spirits, whiskey was originally created for medicinal use by monks. It was first brought to the British Isles in the early 1000s by the Christian missionaries who continued to produce it exclusively until the late 15th century. The monks used whatever grains they could get their hands on to create the distilled liquid, unable to get hold of the wine they had used in previous countries. The first variations of whiskey were made from barley beer in Ireland and Scotland.

To make whiskey, the selected grains are combined with yeast and water to allow for the
fermentation process to take place. The fermentation changes the sugars in the
mixture to alcohol. It is then distilled by pouring the drink through a still,
which makes the liquid clear and highly concentrated.

The next part of the whiskey process takes the longest. It is left to age in a barrel
for a certain number of years. This is essential to give whiskey its dark
colour and woody flavour, while allowing the alcohol volume to mellow. Once
barrelling is completed, the whiskey may be combined with another barrel or
diluted before it is ready to serve.

This is why many whiskeys taste slightly different, and why you can adore one brand of the
spitir but not be so keen on another. Generally, the longer the whiskey has
been barrelled, the more expensive it is.

Pardon the interruption

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Different Types of Whiskey

The most popular whiskeys tend to come from Ireland (Irish whisky) and Scotland (scotch whiskey), but you will also often find Bourbon, Tennessee, Canadian and Japanese whiskies. English whiskey is also starting to gain in popularity, with the largest supplier being the London Distillery.

Another important point to notice, is that there are two spellings for the spirit.
These often help to distinguish where the drink has been made. In Scotland and
Canada, you will only find whiskey, while Ireland and America prefer whisky.


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Bartender's top tip

Bitters can add depth and complexity to your cocktails, acting like the "spices" of the drink world. A few dashes can transform a simple drink into something far more sophisticated. Experiment with different brands and flavors of bitters, ranging from the classic Angostura to more exotic options like orange, chocolate, or celery bitters.

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