The complexities of the whiskey industry leave ample room for myths to take hold, but as a serious whiskey drinker, you’re not likely to be fooled. All bourbon must be made in Kentucky? Only a whiskey dilettante would fall for that one. We’ve debunked a list of slightly more complex whiskey myths and misconceptions below, and you might find some that surprise you!
The darker the color, the longer the whiskey has spent in a barrel
As you know, adding coloring or flavoring to bourbon is strictly prohibited. As a result, you can safely assume that the darker the bourbon, the longer it has spent in a charred oak barrel. However, for many other types of whiskey, that’s simply not the case. The tangled web of regulations governing whiskey making around the world is to blame for this confusion. For example, in Ireland and Canada, where whiskey can legally be made with caramel coloring, darker definitely does not mean older.
The longer whiskey ages, the better it gets
Have you heard the term “over-oaked?” While barrel aging is an essential part of making whiskey, in this case it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Whiskey that has spent too much time in a barrel can absorb so much flavor from the charred oak that it develops a bitter, woody taste. And unlike wine, whiskey stops aging once it’s outside the barrel. Knowing the precise moment to remove whiskey from the barrel is part of a distiller’s magic.
Top shelf whiskey is better
Any whiskey connoisseur is attuned to the fact that nabbing a high-end whiskey can sometimes take a little digging. And while true whiskey fans may not be tempted by the flashy Fireball display next to your liquor store’s checkout line, don’t forget that even the savviest consumer can fall prey to the influence of marketing psychology tactics. Large alcohol distributors have an enormous amount of influence over how and where their whiskeys are displayed. Small batch whiskeys made by craft distillers won’t have the hefty advertising budget, but they’re often worth looking past the “top-shelf” positioning gimmicks.
Rye is spicy and bourbon is sweet
Like nearly everything in the whiskey world, flavor profiles are all about nuance. So while the spicy/sweet flavor dichotomy of rye and bourbon often holds true, there’s more to the story. A bourbon with a high-rye mash bill, for example, may deliver more spice than sweetness. On the other hand, a distiller might choose to blend port or sherry with a spicy rye, creating a sweeter taste.
Sherry-casked Scotch tastes like sherry
You could be forgiven for assuming that Scotch aged in sherry casks would pull in the distinct flavor of sherry, since the barrels themselves do impart flavors on aging whiskey. However, if you have steered clear of sherry-casked Scotch because of a flavor assumption, it may be time to reevaluate. Since it’s primarily the oak that provides the flavor, non-sherry drinkers may find the taste to be subtle and refined rather than overly sweet.
Bourbon must be aged for at least two years
Bourbon, as you know, can be made anywhere in the United States. Only spirits labeled “straight bourbon” must be aged for at least two years (in charred, new-oak barrels.) Some distilleries age bourbon for less time, but it is mandatory for them to disclose the age of the bottle if the bourbon is less than four years old.
Canadian whisky is light and sweet
Often considered “easy-drinking,” Canadian whiskies are looked down on by some spirits enthusiasts who prefer a more robust mouthfeel. And while it is true that Canada produces its fair share of light whisky, the same can be said for the United States and Scotland. Canada is one of the world’s largest whisky-producing countries, and the range of styles and flavors created there run the gamut from bottom-shelf mixing whiskies to sophisticated, high-end spirits. Long story short, Canada’s reputation for light whisky is an oversimplification, so keep an open mind.
Irish whiskey is triple distilled, while Scottish whisky is double distilled
While triple distilling in copper stills is common practice in Ireland, it’s not required by Irish law and it happens in distilleries all over the world (including Scotland). In fact, the Cooley Distillery, one of the most famous in Ireland, uses double distillation. The same can be said for Scotch whisky, with the well-known Auchentoshan and Springbank distilleries opting for triple distillation.
Mixing a drink with good whiskey is a sacrilege
Leave this dusty old stereotype to the whiskey snobs. Most modern whiskey aficionados have moved past it anyway, as creative cocktails made with artisanal ingredients gain popularity worldwide. You don’t have to use the rarest single barrel release in your collection to make an Old Fashioned, but you definitely should not avoid grabbing a decent bottle and mixing one up. A high proof whiskey with a robust taste pairs perfectly with a cocktail because it maintains its flavor when mixed.
Single is better than blended
Blended whiskey tends to get a bad rap amongst whiskey connoisseurs. The perception is that different types of whiskey, perhaps the dregs of various barrels, are thrown together indiscriminately. In fact, distillers meticulously choose complementary products from various barrels to create the perfect taste. You may still choose to opt for single-malt whiskey (made in one distillery from malted barley), but remember that blending whiskey to achieve the perfect balance of flavors is an art form, not an afterthought.
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