A Business Librarian’s Notes from ‘Whiskeys and Their Possibilities’

[Last night, I had the pleasure of attending ‘Whiskeys and Their Possibilities,’ a lecture by the Starving Artist, Torrence O’Haire. I brought along my notebook, and took the following notes. Annotations are in brackets.]

Old Gaelic

[The word whiskey comes from the old Gaelic word uisge, which English speakers could not pronounce. Somehow, they got ‘whiskey’ from that, don’t ask me how.

Malting is the process by which starches are broken down into sugars that can be digested by yeast into carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is done by either soaking, drying, and roasting grain into a wort or through the use of microbes, as fungus is used in the malting of rice for shochu and sake. Fruits need not be malted because the sugar is already present, and need not be unlocked from starches.

This is where the term ‘single malt’ comes from: a single malting goes into the barrels. With blended whiskey, multiple different maltings can be used to achieve consistency or to cover up a bad batch. However, just because something is blended doesn’t mean it’s bad, and a single malt whiskey isn’t necessarily good.]

Captain Morgan’s is only 51 percent rum!
So is Cuervo! So is SoCo! (The rest are grain spirits)

[Many well liquors are only 51% of what they say they are; the remainder is neutral grain spirits.]

What are Kentucky Bourbon’s rules?
No Bourbon is made in Bourbon county!
Bourbon must be 65% corn
Cheap Bourbon can be only 80% actual Bourbon; rest is grain spirits
A Bourbon barrel can only be used once
Straight whiskey can only raise its proof through the Angel’s Share

[The myriad rules of the whiskey world are fascinating. Though they are tightly controlled, there is a great deal of word-trickery that goes on. For instance, Bourbon and ‘Bourbon style whiskey’ are not the same thing. Further, just because something is Bourbon doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because whiskey is blended doesn’t mean it’s bad. You can only use a Bourbon barrel one time, and actually they are pretty cheap if you want to buy one. It’s the reason that so many beers, among other things, are being aged in whiskey barrels.

The proof of straight whiskey, for instance, can only be raised through evaporation through the barrel, what is commonly called the ‘Angel’s Share.’

It blew my mind that no Bourbon was made in Bourbon county.]

Tennessee whiskey is a thing too!
Majority of the rules of Bourbon, but not as strong a rule on adulteration, because of charred maple
George Dickel is a great whiskey
Actual term: Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

[Tennessee Whiskey is a designation that Jack Daniels promulgated because it couldn’t call itself Bourbon, though it wanted to do so, and was only dissuaded by a lawsuit from Bourbon distillers.]

Canadian whiskey can do pretty much anything
+Pendelton 1910
+Caribou Crossing
-Maple Sugar! Huh!

[Canadian whiskey is a bit tricker, because have very few rules as to what constitutes whiskey. I always thought of Canadian whiskey as cheap, or at best a good mixer. However, the three listed above were recommended. The last whiskey bullet is actually distilled with maple sugar, which the Starving Artist described as adding ‘roundness’ to it instead of sweetness.]

Rye was popular because it was cheap to ferment

[It’s funny how much of our habits are formed serendipitously. Rye was thought of as a poor man’s grain, and was popular during the early 20th century for distilling because it was cheap; other grains used more commonly for bread were relatively expensive. Further, the first mixed drinks were created because the rot-gut they used to peddle was disgusting.

The best way to learn drink mixing, according to Mr. O’Haire, was to understand what flavors go together, like a chef that can pull different things from a cupboard and make a great pasta sauce.

Personally, I like my whiskey like I like my bacon: as is. But I do know how to make a Sidecar. That is a family cold remedy, and very necessary.]

Scotch is all barley
Also, all scotch is peat fired
Highland Scotch is mild
Lowland scotch tastes like swamp-water, because they’re pumping their water out of the swamps of the lowlands
Speyside scotch
+Swing by Johnny Walker

[Scotch is weird. Many of them taste like you’re drinking the ground, and I never understood that you’re actually drinking swamp water. That blew my mind too.

All scotch being ‘peat fired’ is another example of the different interpretations of whiskey rules. You can put the peat fire directly beneath the roasting grains, or you can simply use the heat and gain none of the earthy taste common with peat-fired whiskeys. Concurrently, you can get peat-fired Irish whiskeys that are similar to scotches.

The different varieties of scotch are based on the regions of Scotland, and this is pretty important.

Moonshine continues to be disgusting. I have no idea why people drink this.

Mr. O’Haire was an excellent speaker, and everyone involved had a great time. It was another resounding success for our GR Reads program, and there are plenty more one the way.



Business Librarian

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