Types of Spirits
The question, “What are you drinking?” isn’t meant to launch a philosophical debate. If you’re still unclear on your spirits, here’s your little cheat sheet. Tweet
Irishmen and Americans drink “whiskey;” Canadians and Scots drink “whisky.”
There is absolutely no difference between any domestic vodka, except the piece of paper stuck on the front of the bottle.
Cask aging is what counts, so don’t pay a ton of money for a dusty bottle of Armagnac.
There are four main types of whiskey:
- Scotch: Blended scotch whisky has a smoky, medicinal taste and does not work well in most cocktails. Unblended Scottish whisky (single malt) is noticeably smoother and should not be chilled or mixed with anything except a little water and a lot of admiration. Islay marks such as Talisker have a great, peaty taste. It’s like mowing the lawn then drinking it.
- Bourbon is an American whiskey made from corn mash with its origins in Kentucky. Like Scotch, it is best when drunk on its own and not used as a base for cocktails. Or, as Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) tells the barkeep in Cool Hand Luke, “J.T.S. Brown, no ice, no glass.”
- Rye whiskey has come to mean many things to drinkers. American blended whiskey, Canadian blended whisky and straight, rye whiskey are all distilled from rye grain. Your mother was right: three or four rye shooters can put your eye out.
- Irish whiskey has a taste more similar to American whiskeys than Scottish ones. Irish and Americans drink whiskey; Canadians and Scots drink whisky. Most people can’t tell the difference between two Scotches or two bourbons, let alone between “whisky” and “whiskey,” so be careful you don’t pay for a label with a typo.
Your mother was right: three or four rye shooters can put your eye out.
Vodka is a neutral grain spirit. Buy the cheapest filtered stuff you can find. There is absolutely no difference between any domestic vodka, except the piece of paper stuck on the front of the bottle. Imported vodkas do vary enormously, however, and your own taste will steer you right. Vodka should be stored in the freezer, next to the body parts.
Gin is one of the few spirits made better with money. Juniper is the primary ingredient here, and the real thing is more expensive than the phony “extract.” Tastes better, too.
Brandy is distilled wine and marked according to its origin. The most expensive stuff comes from the Cognac region of France, but don’t be gulled by Gauls. Ratings like “VSOP” and “VS” are nearly nonsensical, while bottle aging means nothing in brandy. Cask aging is what counts, so don’t pay a ton of money for a dusty bottle of Armagnac. Money is a good guide to quality but try several varieties and choose for yourself — the next day.
This clip below is a Thanksgiving bourbon recipe from Federalist Senior Editor Chris Bedford, but do you really need a holiday as an excuse to get creative with your booze?