What Makes American Whiskey Unique?

Cameron Carnes
Cameron Carnes

Whiskey lovers tend to be particularly territorial about their spirit of choice. Here in America, these allegiances are especially present in whiskey culture.

All the different types of whiskey made in America have their unique pulls. Rye whiskey junkies will croon about its spiciness and burn, while bourbon aficionados will pore over the drink's smoothness and its vanilla and caramel notes.

Popular Science

Despite whiskey’s popularity, few studies have examined what exactly differentiates these spirits. A new report in the journal Food Chemistry focuses on the nonvolatile compounds that differentiate bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey, and American blended whiskey.

Authored by University of California, Davis chemist Thomas Collins, this study used samples of 63 different whiskeys to establish what exactly separates one type from another.

Whiskey Business

Within the U.S. and abroad, whiskey is a hot commodity. As a result, it’s inspired many counterfeits and imitations. One of the focuses of Collins’ study was to find markers for each type of whiskey that could potentially be used for authentication down the line.

During the course of this research, Collins and his team found almost 4,000 distinct compounds. For a complex spirit made from grains that are roasted, fermented, distilled, then aged, the number of compounds isn’t very surprising.

In the study, the team was able to narrow the field down to around 40 that were critical to the differences in taste among the spirits. “They weren’t necessarily the most important compounds, but they were important in differentiating the types of whiskey,” says Collins. “To really understand their impact requires some sensory input and then correlating the panelists’ findings with the chemical components.”

In-Grain-ed Differences

Out of the four, the American whiskey was easiest to separate. Since it’s usually aged for shorter periods of time, it’s not surprising that this type had few wood-related compounds. Tennessee whiskey, on the other hand, was somewhat separable from bourbons and ryes, but not by as much. It’s possible that this difference stems from the charcoal filtration process that most Tennessee whiskeys undergo after aging.

The differentiation between bourbon and rye is a bit harder. Though ryes from rye-focused distilleries were somewhat more distinct, “the ryes from major bourbon distillers tended to be more similar to the bourbons they produced,” says Collins.

Much of the similarity among these whiskeys may be due to the similarities of their mash bills (the makeup of grains used to make whiskey). By law, the mash bill of both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey must be at least 51% corn. Though rye’s must be 51% rye, the other 49% is often filled out with corn, making it very similar to the others.

Proof in the barrel

If the starting materials aren’t the cause of the differences in taste, what is? Chances are, it’s the whiskey’s time in the barrel. Therefore, it’s not surprising that ryes and bourbons from the same producer tend to be similar – the distillery is probably using the same types of barrels for the different types of whiskeys. According to Collins, scientists can compare whiskey that’s just been distilled with its aged components to figure out these differences.

Hit the Lab

To truly experience whiskey, it’s best to sip it neat or with one cube. However, a lot of classic and modern whiskey-forward cocktails can showcase the spirit without overwhelming it. One such cocktail is the Old Fashioned.

Though the gorgeously fruity concoctions showcased on Mad Men have re-popularized this drink, the Old Fashioned originally evolved out of the 19th century’s Whiskey Cocktail. At first, this drink (also called the Old-Fashioned, Old-Fashion or Old Fashion) was a simple tipple made up of sugar, bitters, and whiskey poured to the customer’s taste over one large ice cube. 

Over time, this libation morphed into a class of cocktail rather than being a drink with a prescribed set of ingredients. An entire (and beautiful) book has even been written about this drink. Making your Old Fashioned to your own taste is more important than following an historical standard. Play around with whiskeys, sugars, bitters and garnishes, and once you formulate the perfect one for your tastes, you’ve got your own house Old Fashioned!

Cameron Carnes

Old Fashioned

1 dash orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 tsp (or to taste) brown sugar syrup
2 oz bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Read more about the difference between Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon.

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

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By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

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5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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Get 70 Percent Off 15 Bottles of Wine From Around the World During This Black Friday Sale

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

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If you or a loved one always wants to try a new bottle of wine from around the globe, you can ensure there's always something fresh and exciting to drink at home with a delivery from Wine Insiders.

The vino pros over at Wine Insiders taste and collect the best selections from top wineries around the world and deliver them to your door in a convenient pack of 15 bottles. You won’t have to stand in the wine aisle at your local market for 20 minutes reading labels and googling grapes anymore; the pack arrives at your door within days of ordering it and is carefully curated to ensure every bottle is high quality.

The folks at BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Forbes, Refinery29, and Cosmopolitan have already applauded the top-rated mix of radiant whites and easy-drinking reds from Wine Insiders, and that high praise earned the 15-bottle pack a hefty price tag. But for a limited time, you can get your thirsty hands on the 15-pack valued at $300 for just $85, marking the price down by 71 percent. That’s a limited Black Friday value that averages less than $6 per bottle, making it an excellent purchase for your holiday shopping list of 15 friends, or a totally appropriate price to spend on your own wine stash.

Prices subject to change.

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