With so many spellings, brands, varieties and ways to drink, we've compiled a quick guide to what to look for in the drink George Bernard Shaw once named 'liquid sunshine'.

Raymond Chandler once proclaimed "There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others". He had a point; if you can't decide what to drink, whisky, a spirit distilled from malted grain, is never a bad choice. In fact, it's so great someone once made an impassioned speech about it:

 

What's in the name?

You may have come across two different spellings, 'whisky' and 'whiskey'. Whether there's any real difference between the two is a source of much debate. Some think it's just a matter of regional spelling differences; 'whiskey' is common in Ireland and the US, whilst 'whisky' is used everywhere else, most notably Scotland.

In the US, however, 'whiskey' is now used mainly for aged grain spirits made in the US, and 'whisky' for aged grain spirits made outside the US. There are plenty of US brands that do use 'whisky', however, making the issue quite complicated. In the UK, at least, 'whisky' is the norm.

 

How do you know what variety it is?

Four things determine this; where the drink is made, what grains are used, the proportion of grains used in the mash and how it's aged. Scotch is made from malted barley, not corn, wheat or rye, in Scotland, and typically the barley is dried over peat fires to give it a distinctive flavour.

To qualify as 'single malt', it must be made at a single distillery from only water, malted barley and yeast. Bourbon is an American whisky distilled from maize and rye. Irish whiskey is also malt whisky, but tends to be roasted over charcoal, not peat, making it taste cleaner.

It is normally triple distilled, unlike Scotch, which is double distilled. 'Rye' can refer to two different drinks; American rye whiskey, distilled from at least 51% rye, or Canadian whisky, which confusingly may not actually be made from rye. 

 

What's the difference between blended and single malt?

Single-malt or single barrel whiskies come from the same batch at one distillery, whilst blended whiskies, like Jameson and Jack Daniels, are made by combining multiple single malt/barrel whiskies in order to give a lighter taste that's easier to drink but less intense than single malts.

They can either be made from the same grain but from multiple distilleries, or from a mixture of different grains. Whisky connoisseurs tend to eschew these for the more distinctive flavours of single malts/barrels. 

 

How should you drink it?

When handed a glass of whisky, firstly swill the liquid around. You can tell from how much sticks to the sides and its consistency how oily it is and how alcoholic. Second, give it a sniff. Many skip this part, but whiskies have deep and complex aromas, which should be savoured.

To drink it, take a small sip, hold it in your mouth for a little while and swallow. At this point you'll begin to detect the flavour. If it's super alcoholic, add a few drops of water; soft mineral is best, since the chlorine in tap water can spoil the flavour. If you need to add ice, don't go overboard as it reduces the temperature of the drink, making the flavour change.

Now go forth and enjoy that liquid sunshine!

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