5 things I’ve learned about…International Whiskey

The March 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on International Whiskey.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  It’s a big, big, big, big world out there. American, Canadian, Irish, Welsh, French, and Japanese whiskies all made their way to my doorstep.  (I should probably explain that “International Whiskey” is shorthand for all whiskey except Bourbon, Rye, and Scotch. Why exclude those categories?  Bourbon and Rye were covered recently; Scotch will be covered in depth later this year. And yes, despite that exclusion, there was still a TON left to cover!)

2.  Whiskey spans so many styles —  single malt, blended, peated, cask-finished – ages, mash bills (the blend of grains used to make the spirit), and colors, from crystal clear to deep nut-brown.

3.  Different can be good. One of my favorites was an Irish Whiskey, light (in color and feel), and had tropical fruit notes, like a Sauvignon Blanc, beneath a light veil of smoke (Slieve Foy 18 year-old). Another favorite – polar opposite – was an American regional, quite dark and rich, and had a creamy mouthfeel that put me in mind of the head on a root beer float (Stranahan’s). And both were delicious.

4.  It’s an amazing testament that so many countries have opted to distill whiskey. Originally, whiskey was brewed in countries that lacked the warm climate for producing fermented drinks made from grapes. However, this is no longer an iron-clad rule. In fact, some distillers in California and other states now produce brandies and whiskies in the same facility.

5.  Whiskey is perhaps the trickiest base ingredient to use in cocktails. Maybe that’s why many purists opt to drink whiskey straight.

If you have a favorite whiskey, or whiskey-based cocktail, I’d love to hear more about it, please leave a comment!