Whiskey, in some shape or form, has been around for centuries, with its origins traced back to European monks. Even American whiskey boasts deep roots, with Revolutionary-era whiskey delighting the colonists just as it delights whiskey connoisseurs today.
However, despite whiskey’s storied past, it’s not always been America’s drink of choice. It’s only been over the last decade or so that whiskey has enjoyed its current popularity, thanks to trends like increased spending on fine spirits overall and whiskey’s growing use in popular media like “Mad Men.” According to a 2022 Forbes article, the overall number of whiskey cases sold in the U.S. has increased yearly for the last 12 years, and American whiskey demand has increased by nearly 7%.
Given this popularity, you may find that your local favorite wine and spirits store has started stocking many different whiskey options. In fact, you may now walk into your store’s whiskey aisle and find yourself overwhelmed. If you’ve wondered why there are so many different whiskey brands, this article can help.
There are three primary types of whiskey you can find on just about any store shelf: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, and aged whiskey. Here’s a look at each:
Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is a specific type of whiskey. You’ve likely heard the saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.” There are also specific rules to follow for whiskey to be called bourbon: it must be made from a grain mash that’s at least 51% corn, aged in new, charred American oak barrels, and distilled to 150 proof or less, entering the barrel at 125 proof. Bourbon also cannot contain any additives.
Contrary to what some believe, Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey does not have to be made in Kentucky, but is does have to be made in the United States.
Bourbon is a popular pick for classic cocktails such as a Manhattan or an old-fashioned.
For a whiskey to be considered rye whiskey, it must also follow a strict recipe. A rye whiskey is made from a mash that’s at least 51% rye grain. Rye whiskey can be made anywhere in the world, but you’ll always find it bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.
Rye whiskeys like Old Ezra 7-Year Straight Rye Whiskey, Ezra 99 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, or Rebel 100 Straight Rye Whiskey generally have a spicier flavor compared to wheated whiskeys. Rye whiskeys are an excellent choice for cocktails such as a Sazerac.
When whiskey is first put into a barrel, it’s clear–like water and tastes more like turpentine. You do not want to drink that stuff. As bourbon sits in a barrel, it takes on that familiar amber color and picks up notes of vanilla, oak, leather, chocolate, and more that we all love. Barrels account for about 70% of the flavor and 100% of the color of whiskey.
As you can imagine, the longer it sits in the barrel, the more of those flavors it takes on. Aged whiskeys are beloved because they generally feature a richer, more complex flavor.
Because of this, aged whiskeys, like Lux Row 12-Year Double Barrel, Rebel 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and Old Ezra 7-Year Extra Aged Bourbon, are best enjoyed on their own, neat or on the rocks, rather than mixed into a favorite cocktail.
Of course, while these three categories of whiskey are some of the main options you’ll find in just about any spirits store, you can still find other, more niche whiskey options, too, such as blended whiskeys or distiller’s choice whiskeys, all of which boast their own unique nuances.
To explore all of the above whiskey variations and more, visit Lux Row Distillers at our location in Bardstown, Kentucky. Book a tour to learn more about the distillation process and discover what makes the many Lux Row Distillers whiskeys stand out on any shelf or bar cart.