7 Burning Questions About Whiskey, Answered

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Fire water, water of life, juice—whatever you call it, whiskey (also spelled “whisky”) is having a moment. But with so many different whiskeys available, learning the particulars of even one type can be challenging. To help out, we’ve put together a list of answers to your most frequently asked questions about the brown spirit. Consider this your Whiskey 101 cheat sheet.

1. WHAT IS WHISKEY?

The answer is trickier than you might expect: What can be labeled "whiskey" varies from country to country. Many of the moonshines and white whiskeys available in the U.S. can’t legally be labeled as whiskey elsewhere, for example, because they haven't been aged. Exactly how long the spirit must age to be called whiskey varies by country, but all whiskeys do have one thing in common: They're made from grain.

2. WHY IS WHISKEY SOMETIMES SPELLED WITHOUT AN E?

You’ve probably noticed that some whiskey labels read “whiskey” while others are spelled “whisky.” The current convention is that Irish and American whiskeys are spelled with the e, and that Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese whiskys are spelled without. But some bourbons and Tennessee whiskies—including Maker’s Mark and George Dickel—are spelled without the e. Go figure.

3. WHAT IS BOURBON?

To be considered whiskey in the U.S., the spirit must be distilled from grain and be between 40 and 95 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) [PDF]. Usually it is distilled twice. Unlike other countries, there is no minimum aging requirement for most types of American whiskeys.

In the States, bourbon is king. To be called bourbon, the product must not only meet the baseline definition of whiskey, but must also be distilled from at least 51 percent corn. It must be under 62.5 percent ABV once it goes into a barrel, and it must be aged in charred new oak containers. To be called “straight bourbon" (or "straight" whiskey of any kind), it has to aged for at least two years. As far as taste goes, bourbon is typically thought to be sweeter than other whiskeys (such as rye or Scotch), and has a slight smoky flavor.

And last but not least, bourbon has to be made in the United States. It is so ingrained (no pun intended) in our culture, even NAFTA restricts the word "bourbon" to whiskey made in the States.

4. IS BOURBON THE SAME AS TENNESSEE WHISKEY?

Tennessee whiskey is not to be confused with bourbon, although legally, there are only a couple variances between the two. In addition to meeting all the federal requirements for bourbon, Tennessee whiskey must also be produced within the state’s limits. Since 2013, it has been required that all Tennessee whiskey is “filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging,” which is known as the Lincoln County Process [PDF] (although one distiller received an exemption from the law).

Aside from these two huge categories, the U.S. also produces rye whiskey (which must be distilled from at least 51 percent rye), wheat whiskey (which must be distilled from 51 percent wheat), unaged white whiskeys, and grain whiskeys made from everything ranging from corn to quinoa, which isn't a grain at all.

5. SO, WHAT IS SCOTCH?

Like American whiskey, Scotch varies greatly in terms of its taste—although it's generally thought to be smokier and peatier than its cousins. By law, it must be made in Scotland and aged for no fewer than three years in oak containers.  Perhaps surprisingly, many of these containers are former bourbon barrels. As American law requires bourbon to be aged in “new oak,” used bourbon barrels are frequently shipped to Scotland for use in making Scotch. Traditionally, all Scotch whisky was made using malted barley.

6. WHAT IS MALT WHISKY?

Malt whisky must be made from a mash of malted grain (usually barley), which means the grain has been soaked, allowed to start sprouting, and then roasted to halt the process. The whisky's level of smoky, savory peat flavor comes from how long the barley is dried over a peat-fueled fire: The longer it's over the fire, the smokier the whisky is.

A single malt means the whisky was made at only one distillery. So, a single malt Scotch is whisky made in Scotland using malted barley in a single distillery.

7. WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES PRODUCE WHISKEY—AND WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT THEIR PRODUCTS?

The other biggies in terms of whisk(e)y production are Canada, Ireland, and Japan. Here are the basics:

Canada: Of all the whiskey-producing countries in the world, Canada (arguably) is the most misunderstood, and it’s not hard to see how it got a bad rap: 75 percent of all Canadian whisky that’s produced is shipped to the U.S., but only about 10 percent of the premium products leave Canada (which means Americans are usually tasting the less-than-stellar stuff). One of the most common misconceptions about Canadian whisky is that it was popularized within the U.S. during Prohibition. Not so, says Canadian whisky historian Davin de Kergommeaux in Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. According to his research, whisky's generally anesthetic properties made it useful during the Civil War, and since many American distilleries were burned down during the fighting, we needed to turn to our neighbors to the north for our supply.

Legally, the regulations surrounding Canadian whisky provide distillers and blenders a lot of leeway in creating new products. Here, whisky must be distilled from grain to no less than 40 percent ABV, and be aged in wood for at least three years. Canada was the first country in the world to require a minimum age for whisky, which it did in 1887; Britain would follow suit about 25 years later.

Ireland: Ten years ago, there were only three whiskey-producing distilleries in all of Ireland. Thanks to the craft spirits movement, 13 others have opened up since 2006. Irish whiskey must be aged for three years, most is distilled three times, and it must be distilled to at least 40 percent ABV (as in the U.S.).

Japan: Although it’s been produced since the early 1920s, Japanese whisky has only recently become available in the U.S. And as it’s become more available, its celebrity has also grown: The 2015 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible (Murray has ranked the world's best whiskeys since 2003) named a whisky from Yamazaki Distillery as the best in the world.

All images courtesy of iStock.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

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Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Cocktail Enthusiast in Your Life

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Libbey/Amazon

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Cocktails are an art form. Each drink has a unique history. Why does a margarita have salt? How is the garnish chosen for each drink, especially when you’re creating one spontaneously? What’s the best way to make an old fashioned? If there is someone in your life that has the answers to these questions, they are probably a cocktail enthusiast. This holiday season, treat that person to goodies that will help enhance their craft. 

1. Cocktail Shaker Set; $18

Amazon

Whether they like their drinks shaken or stirred, amateur mixologists can make all kinds of cocktails with this kit. It includes all the essential tools: a muddler, jigger, shaker, and more. They’ll feel like an expert in no time.

Buy it: Amazon

2. The Carry On Cocktail Kit—Old Fashioned; $24

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For the traveler who demands a good drink, these kits come with everything but the booze. But if they are going to pack their own mini bottles, remind them to check the airline’s regulations—rules vary on whether it’s legal to drink your own booze in-flight. Also available in Moscow Mule, Champagne Cocktail, and Gin & Tonic.

Buy it: Amazon

3. The Spirit Infusion Kit; $42

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One of the best parts about making cocktails is that experimentation is rewarded. This infusion kit, including instruction and recipe book, bottle, strainers, and more, will help your cocktail enthusiast turn average vodka into a berry explosion or take tequila to the next level by infusing it with jalapeño peppers.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds; $10

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Instead of filling their glass with plain cubes, cocktail fans can use this set of two ice molds to craft spherical, uh, cubes. Each piece will melt slowly in a drink and add flair to their home bar. 

Buy it: Amazon

5. The Bitter Truth Travelers Set; $20

The Bitter Truth/Amazon

Any cocktail aficionado worth their salt should have a few bottles of bitters. To spice things up, give them this sampler set that includes five complex flavors: celery bitters, classic old time aromatic bitters, orange bitters, Creole bitters, and Jerry Thomas bitters.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

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Though some home bartenders have a house cocktail, few can say they make their gin in-house. Help your loved one mix it up and make 750 ml of homemade gin with this collection that includes one tin of juniper berries, one tin of the company's secret botanical blend, one stainless steel funnel, one fine stainless steel strainer, and two 375-ml glass bottles. All that’s missing is your giftee's label—time for them to brush up on those Photoshop skills.

Buy it: Amazon

7. The Cocktail Chronicles: Navigating the Cocktail Renaissance with Jigger, Shaker, and Glass; $15

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Whether the recipient is a seasoned bartender or a cocktail newcomer, Imbibe editor Paul Clarke’s book has something for everyone. From modern cocktails to obscure classics, the snapshots in this 200-page book show how far the cocktail scene has come—and where it’s going.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Glencairn Whisky Glass Set; $30

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Whiskey drinkers know that the type of glass can dramatically change the smell, taste, and experience of the drink. This set of four award-winning glasses would make any cocktail enthusiast swoon.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fancy Paper Straws; $5

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Almost any drink looks fancier with the addition of a patterned paper straw. Gussy up your loved ones' bars with a box of these beauties. The stocking stuffers are biodegradable, compostable, printed with food grade ink, and available in a variety of colors and patterns.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail; $25

Amazon

This 416-page book should be a prerequisite for all science nerds who want to make better cocktails. Dave Arnold of Booker & Dax breaks down the facts and recipes to make any bar more interesting.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Libbey Mixologist 18-Piece Cocktail Glass Set; $39

Amazon

If your cocktail enthusiast likes to experiment with different drinks, then they need the glasses that go with them. They can’t have a martini in a margarita glass, nor drink tequila from a whiskey balloon, after all. Libbey’s set will instantly upgrade their bar cart.

Buy it: Amazon

Bonus: Vintage Fernet Poster; $50

CANVAS ON DEMAND/Amazon

Bartenders call a shot of Fernet a "handshake." The bitter, minty liqueur is an acquired taste, but there's much to appreciate. Deck out the wall of the Fernet fan in your life with this reproduction vintage ad.

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