Whisky -

As the word is generally understood to-day, is spirit of potable strength obtained by distillation from the fermented solutions of various grains - rye, corn, barley, wheat, etc. - as Brandy is of fruits, principally of wine, i. e., grapes. An important exception to this generalization is that grain spirit flavored with juniper berries is the product known as GIN (which see).

The word "Whisky" is derived from an old Irish and Scotch word Usquebaugh (pronounced "Whisky-bay"), derived from the Gaelic Uisge, meaning "water," and Beatha meaning "(of) life." The same idea is conveyed in the French name for Brandy - Eau de Vie, which also signifies "water of life." The title Usquebaugh was further applied in Ireland to a drink prepared by digesting raisins, etc., in spirit.

The different varieties of American Whisky are due primarily to (1) the different grains used or the different combinations of grains, and (2) the degree to which distillation is carried.

To properly explain the difference between "Straight," "Blended" and "Redistilled" whiskies, one must use the distillery phrases of "High Wines" and "Neutral Spirits."

The first distillation from the old pot=still is known as "Low Wines," and consists of a liquid containing about two-thirds water and one-third alcohol, together with various undesirable grain ingredients. Low Wines redistilled - once, twice or several times, according to the distillery equipment or policy and the degree of refinement desired - produce "High Wines," a much stronger product and with the "impurities" considerably reduced. In general modern manufacture, these distillations are made by a single continuous process - the Low Wines, while still in vapor form, passing into additional "chambers" and there being redistilled into High Wines. This High Wines, when water is added to reduce it to potable strength, is new Straight Whisky. It is at this stage a harsh, unpalatable product because of the congeneric substances ("fusel oil") contained, but aging in wood for three or four years overcomes this defect.

If, instead of condensing the vapors which form High Wines, they are passed through other chambers until practically all the congeneric substances have been eliminated or "neutralized," the result is "Neutral Spirits."

"Rectified Spirits," "Redistilled Spirits," etc., are essentially the same as Neutral Spirits.

Blended Whisky is sometimes a blend of two or more varieties of High Wines reduced to potable strength, but is generally a mixture of High Wines and Neutral Spirits. The High Wines is used for the character it imparts to the blend, and the Neutral Spirits to modify the harshness of the new High Wines.

Redistilled Whisky is Neutral Spirits reduced to potable strength, flavored and colored, either by aging in wood or by the addition of caramel coloring and fruit-juice flavoring, etc.

Compound Whisky is a mixture of any kind of Whisky with distillates from other sources, as molasses, etc.

Other terms descriptive of American Whisky are:

Rye Whisky: in which Rye is the predominating grain.

Bourbon Whisky (so-called because first made in Bourbon County, Ky.), in which corn (maize) is the predominating grain.

corn Whisky: in which corn is the only grain used except the malt employed for diastatic purposes.

malt Whisky: principally or entirely from malted grain.

Straight Whisky may be either Rye, Bourbon, corn or malt.

Blended Whisky may be either Rye, Bourbon, malt or corn "High Wines" - or all four - blended with each other or with "Neutral Spirits" and reduced to potable strength.

Whisky "aged in wood" is that in which the distinctive color and flavor are due either wholly or in part to the extractive matters from the barrels in which it is allowed to rest - instead of these two characteristics being otherwise produced. High class Blended and all Straight whiskies are so aged to a greater or less extent.

The use of Neutral Spirits is resorted to in the manufacture of a majority of popular price whiskies, because it decreases the cost of producing a marketable liquor. The unpleasant smell and taste of new Straight Whisky entirely disappear if it is stored for some years in wood casks, being succeeded by the amber hue and rich flavor so agreeable to connoisseurs - the "fusel oil" is still present, but it has lost the characteristics which render it objectionable to nostrils and palate - but to wait several years before marketing a product of this volatile character is to greatly enhance its expense by the loss in volume incurred and by tying up capital for that length of time. By blending with a sufficient quantity of Neutral Spirits, the fusel oil taste and smell are at once considerably modified. The next step is the addition of caramel (burnt sugar), which gives the desired color. By these methods a Whisky, acceptable for ordinary purposes and equally wholesome when the product of reputable manufacturers, can be marketed with much less delay.

In some cases, prune and other fruit juices are added in small quantities to give "mellowness" and flavor.

Blending is also employed in the manufacture of some expensive American whiskies, which are "aged" just as long and at the same trouble and expense as for the best Straight Whisky. The reason, then, is the belief of the manufacturers that greater palatability is thus secured.

The special color and flavor which distinguish American Whisky were originally, and still are largely, due to the use of caramel - and frequently of fruit juices. The same color found in the Whisky "aged in wood" to which no caramel or other substance is added, is attributable to the present American custom of using new barrels to store Whisky and charring the insides of the barrels to prevent it from acquiring a "woody taste." New uncolored Whisky as it first goes into the barrels looks like water, but as the liquor acts on the tannin of the layer under the charred surface of the wood, it changes gradually to very light amber, then to straw color and lastly to a rich amber.

In English, Scotch and Irish whiskies, barley, oats and malt (in varying proportions - some almost entirely of malt) are the dominating factors. In Scotland, the liquor is generally stored in sherry casks. The "smoky" flavor characteristic of Scotch and Irish Whisky was originally caused by the use of peat or turf as fuel for drying the malt, and the force of public habit has resulted in its being continued under more elaborate methods. The best Scotch Whiskies are obtained by blending high-flavored raw Whisky with very mild-flavored redistilled Whisky and then thoroughly aging.

The five principal stages in the manufacture of Whisky are (1) preparing the grain, (2) "mashing", and adding the malt to convert the starch into fermentable sugar, (3) fermentation, to convert the sugar into alcohol, (4) distillation to separate the alcohol from the water and solid matter, and (5) aging.

In addition to the "character" grain - rye for Rye Whisky and corn for Bourbon, etc. - ground barley malt (or in some rye whiskies, rye malt) is used, in American manufacture, in an average proportion of 10% to 20%, occasionally to as high as 25%, according to individual or local custom.

The preparation of the grain means, in a first-class modern distillery, its careful selection (for damaged grain will spoil the flavor of the Whisky), thorough "brushing" and cleansing and, finally, grinding into meal. It is then ready for the "mash" tubs.

A mash tub is generally a wooden or metal receptacle of large size, with apertures for the admission of steam, copper coils for the circulation of cold water and a power-driven contrivance (generally called a "rake") to agitate the contents, but in a few distilleries small hand mash tubs and hand paddling are still employed, the distillers denying the advantages of improved equipment.

The tub is half full of water at a temperature of from 140° to 170° Fahr., when the meal is gradually added and well mixed in. The heat is then slowly increased to the boiling point, and the mass - which is nothing more nor less than a gigantic grain "pudding," and has thickened to that consistence - is said to be "scalded" or "cooked." Cold water is added, through the copper coils referred to, until the temperature is reduced to 150° Fahr. or lower, and then the ground malt and an additional 5% or 10% of fresh rye or other meal are mixed in.

Soon after the malt has been worked into the "pudding," the mass begins to soften until it is sufficiently liquid to pass off through a trough or pipe into a wooden tank known as the "fermenter."

When the fermenter is a little more than half full of the "pudding" liquid, strained spent beer from a previous distillation is added until the tank is nearly full. This spent beer, familiarly known as "slop" among distillery laborers, is a thin acid liquor, rife with yeast cells and containing some unconverted starch.

The next move in the Sweet Mash process is the addition of some carefully prepared yeast, and then the whole is left to ferment. The yeast is generally the special secret of each distiller - on its merits and the skill shown at this point, depends much of the quality and value of the product. In some distilleries, prepared yeast is used to the entire exclusion of the "spent beer" addition. By the Sour Mash process, on the other hand, no yeast is used, reliance being placed entirely on the action of the spent beer.

In a few hours the mixture begins to bubble, the agitation increasing in violence with the continuous formation and escape of carbon-dioxide (carbonic acid gas). The fermentation produces two main factors, alcohol and carbon-dioxide - the former remains in the liquid, but the latter forces its way out.

The transformed liquid consists chiefly of crude alcohol and water, with numerous minor miscellaneous ingredients, and is known in distiller's parlance as "beer," but it is not a drinkable beverage.

The Sour Mash process requires more time for fermentation than the Sweet Mash and does not yield as high an alcoholic percentage, but it gives the product more of the grain flavor.

The fourth stage employs the universal principle of distillation (which see) to separate the alcohol from a large part of the water, leaving also the solids and certain deleterious ingredients behind. The exact processes vary in different localities and establishments and with the grade of Whisky manufactured - infinite pains being taken in the making of finer types, as by double and triple distillation and the use of innumerable chambered stills placed one on top of the other so as to resemble a "column" - but whatever the variations, the product carried over is "Whisky," or can be made so by the addition of water to reduce it to potable strength.

Straight Whisky is stored in the distillery bonded warehouses; Blended Whisky in "free" warehouses.

The filled barrels of Straight Whisky remain in the warehouses under the control of government officers as long as the manufacturer or other owner desires, being subject to withdrawal at any time on payment of the government charges. The full "bonded" period is eight years, at the end of which time the payment of the tax is compulsory.

Whisky as marketed generally contains about 50% alcohol by volume. The standard of alcoholic strength in spirituous liquors is termed Proof (which see). If less than 80° Proof, the degrees of Proof must be stated on the label.

Arround Whisky in The Grocer's Encyclopedia

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