The Wheel of Spirits: Episode American Whiskey

When talking about whiskey, most people intuitively think of kilts and bagpipes and thus Scotch whiskey. Here we are, however, on another continent, America, home of the American Straight Whiskey. In its home country the clear number one, the bourbon is also on the global stage one of the most popular whiskey varieties today.

The Indians were not familiar with fermented plant juices, let alone kilned distillates. Alcoholic spirits did not reach the New World until European immigrants settled in America. Above all, the Scottish and Irish emigrants didn’t want to go without their beloved whisky. However, as barley didn’t grow well there, they had to branch out into rye and wheat. They soon found out that corn could also be integrated well into whiskey production.

But then American prohibition laws (1920–1933) knocked the stuffing out of most of the small distilleries in the USA. It was only at the start of the 21st century that American whiskey truly recovered.

Nowadays, American straight whiskey is divided into two main categories based on the main ingredient: bourbon and rye whiskey. The primary component of the mash is prescribed by law to be at least 51% corn in the case of bourbon and 51% rye for the variety of the same name. In practice, the percentage is usually far higher! This mash of various ground grains, and corn and water as required, is then fermented through the addition of enzymes. The result produced after a few days, known as beer, is then continuously distilled in Coffey stills.

Distillation occurs twice, initially into so-called low wines and then to high wines in the second distillation process. Bourbon can legally not be distilled to a higher volume than 80% ABV. After distillation, the ‘white dog’ with a maximum 62.5% ABV is put into barrel storage in freshly burnt-out American oak barrels. For bourbon, there are no regulations on how long it stays there. A straight bourbon or rye whiskey needs to spend two years in the barrel.

The proof is in the pudding – as the American says. With that in mind, we have picked three great recipes to allow you to test that out: the Horse’s Neck with Ginger Ale, the BLT with Tonic Water and the Call Me Grape with Ultimate Grapefruit (new product since 2020: Thomas Henry Pink Grapefruit).

I hope you enjoyed our Wild West tour!
Bottoms up – see you soon!

Texted by Philipp Mogwitz.