American whiskey can be made from wheat, barley, corn, or rye. According to the Wall Street Journal, wheat-based liquors like Pappy Van Winkle tend to have milder, subtler flavors. Barley is the grain used for Scotch. Rye tends to make for a spicy, more vibrant whiskey. And high-carbohydrate corn, which breaks down into sugars when fermented, allows whiskey (or Bourbon, rather) a reputation as “Whiskey’s sweet sister.”
Whiskey’s beginnings are simple. Grains are merely thrown in a container and soaked in spring water until they start to germinate, or sprout. Once accomplished, these ends are removed, the kernels crushed and dried, and re-boiled before yeast is added to start fermentation. The next step is distillation, managed once the mash is cleared of impurities and placed in a pot still. Here it will be heated slowly again until evaporation commences, followed by condensation into a new liquid composed of three parts – methylic heads, whiskey’s prized heart, and, last, its tail. Of these, the heads and tails will be discarded and the whiskey itself aged in barrel for a pre-determined number of years.
We sampled two bourbon whiskies tonight, Trinchero’s Amador Double Barrel and Jack Daniels. The first distillery is a newcomer, having begun in 2015. The distillery purchases aged Bourbon from a number of Kentucky distilleries and imports them to California, where they continue to age in wine casks from the family estate. The whiskey’s time in these barrels gives it flavors of oak, brown sugar, vanilla, and spice. By contrast, one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old Jack Daniels distillery has used the same recipe for almost its entire run. Mainly corn, with components of rye and wheat, it is aged in barrels made on premise. It tastes of brown sugar, spice, oak, ripened citrus, and a bit of charcoal.