What constitutes Bourbon? What ingredients are used in vodka? And what does rum have to do with Staten Island? You may think being in college gives you the authority on all things alcohol, but how much do you really know about the drinks you order at Tavern and Moe’s? Gentlemen, inebriation has rules. Before you order that whiskey on the rocks, check out Distraction’s basic guide to the world of spirits.
Sea faring and hangover bearing, rum had its upbringing in the Caribbean and has a base ingredient of sugarcane juice or molasses. The color of rum depends on where and for how long it is aged. This sugary beverage found success in the colonies, becoming a major component of the slave trade. America’s first distillery was actually in Staten Island, and rum itself was originally called kill-devil due to terrible hangovers (we’re guessing pirates weren’t morning people).
Light rum, also known as silver or white rum, originates in countries with Spanish influence such as Puerto Rico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. It retains its light color because it is fermented in steel barrels and filtered after aging to remove its color. Because of its lighter, sweeter taste, light rum is often used as a base for cocktails such as mojitos, daquiris, and mai tais.
Gold and darker rums generally have more flavor and taste stronger than lighter rums. They originate in countries with English influence such as Bermuda, Trinidad and Jamaica. The rum is aged in charred-oak, hand-me-down barrels that once contained bourbon whiskey. Gold rum is aged longer than light rum and dark rums are aged even longer. These rums can be mixed, but they are traditionally consumed solo or used when cooking. Never confuse these with spiced rum, which obtains its flavor through the addition of spices and sometimes vanilla and caramel, which disguise cheaply made, hangover inducing base spirits.Whiskey
If there is a type of alcohol manlier than whiskey, please rise now. No takers? We thought so. After all, whiskey is actually beer before it can become a jack and coke. There are two types of whiskey: malt whiskey, which comes from malted barley and grain whiskey, which comes from other grains such as corn, wheat or rye. A single malted whiskey is created in one distillery, whereas blended malts are a mixture of whiskies from many distilleries and aged for five years minimum. Whiskey has its origins, like most great beverages, in Ireland and Scotland. It was invented because the monastic distilleries there lacked the grapes to make wine, so barley beer was used instead.
Besides shamrocks, Riverdance and Guinness, Irish whiskey is Ireland’s claim to fame. It has a much smoother and delicate taste than scotch, which is why it is often mixed to make Irish coffee. Notable brands are Baileys and Jameson.
Clearly, scotch is the cool kid on the block, dropping the “e” and adopting the “whisky” spelling. It also prefers to be sipped solo. Brands such as Johnny Walker and Glenlivet have a much smokier taste than Irish whiskey because they are made from barley dried over peat fire.
We as Americans should appreciate Kentucky, not just because they gave us fried chicken, but also because they gave us bourbon. In order to be considered bourbon, the whiskey must be produced in the United States, made of at least 51% corn and aged in new barrels for at least two years. This, mixed with lemon juice and sugar, makes a perfect whiskey sour. Budget friendly versions include Jim Beam and Evan Williams. If you want a smoother taste then splurge on Makers Mark.
Tennessee whiskey, most notably Jack Daniels, is basically bourbon, but it is filtered through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal after distillation.
While it’s uncertain if George Washington had a cherry tree, we are sure that he had a rye whiskey distillery. Rye has a bold, bitter and peppery taste, and is also aged in charred oak barrels. While American brands are made with rye, Canadian rye such as Crown Royal holds the name for historical purposes. They actually contain little or no rye at all.
And one more thing!
NEVER order whiskey on the rocks, lest you want to be shunned by the Gods of Barley. The cold liquid dilutes the taste. Instead, ask for whiskey and a splash of water – this actually brings out the flavors and dulls the sizzling sensation you feel as it trickles down your throat.
Vodka, a spirit so sneaky even Sherlock Holmes would have difficulty framing it. Vodka is classified as a “neutral spirit, so distilled, or so treated after distillation…as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” Originating in Russia and northeast Europe around 1400 A.D., the name “vodka” stems from the Russian word “voda” meaning “water” (although we don’t recommend replacing this with your H20). It did not gain popularity in the U.S. until the 1930s and 1940s when Smirnoff relocated its headquarters to America and started marketing itself as a cocktail base. This “white whiskey” can be distilled from any fermentable ingredient: potatoes, corn and most commonly today, grains such as wheat.
Unlike whiskey and rum, vodka does not have different categorizations and is not aged. Instead, grains, vegetables and malt are mixed in a mash tub, somewhat like a washing machine. The mash then goes through sterilization and fermentation. The liquid that results after the ingredients are distilled usually contains 95 to 100% alcohol, so water is added to decrease the alcohol percentage and make the Vodka drinkable. Most are reduced to 40% alcohol. Because vodka is so pure and odorless, it can be mixed with practically anything. The Russians wash it down with beer, but in America it is commonly used in lemon drops, bloody marys, screwdrivers, sea breezes and martinis. We like ours shaken, not stirred.