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Whiskey 101: You don't know Jack 

inside JD's house. As a Southerner with Irish roots, I've always had a particular fondness for whiskey. In my neck of the woods, whiskey soothes

click to enlarge inside JD's house.
  • inside JD's house.
inside JD's house. As a Southerner with Irish roots, I've always had a particular fondness for whiskey. In my neck of the woods, whiskey soothes the gums of teething babies. My family's cough syrup consisted of whiskey and honey, in roughly equal parts. By the time I was seven, I had developed an appreciation for my father's favorite cocktail: Seagram's Seven and Seven-Up.

So, when I found out about the 9th Annual Whiskies of the World Expo in San Francisco, I signed up for a 2½ hour seminar called "Grain to Glass."

David Mays, Knob Creek's Whiskey Professor, explained what makes whiskey, whiskey. The broadest category of distilled spirits, whisky includes all those spirits that are the result of the fermentation and distillation of grain. Scotch and Irish whiskies are made from barley, Bourbon is mostly made of corn, and Canadian whiskies use mostly rye. Whisky can even be made from rice.

As much as I appreciate a smoky Scotch, I admit that I'm partial to bourbon, which must meet seven criteria to be called "bourbon." First and foremost, it can only be made in the US. The mash must contain at least 51% corn (most bourbons use 70% or more), and the spirits must be aged in a new, charred-oak barrel. It must be distilled at no more than 160 proof, barreled at no more than 125 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. Finally, no flavor or color can be added at any point in the process.

This last requirement is what makes Jack Daniels whiskey instead of bourbon. Flavor and color are added when the spirits are filtered through maple charcoal.

In addition to teaching us how whiskies are made, Professor Mays also taught us to taste whiskey. Because of the high alcohol content, swirling and sucking air across the tongue are discouraged, as this intensifies the alcohol "burn." Instead, Mays recommends the "Kentucky Chew." Skip the tip of the tongue when pouring the whiskey into your mouth, then close your mouth and "chew" with your lips closed. After swallowing the whiskey, smack your lips and savor the lingering flavor.

Of course, whiskey tastes best after a provocative toast. Mays suggested one that originated with Booker Noe (a direct descendent of Jim Beam) and was expanded on by Booker's son, Freddy: "May there be no Hell. But if there is, I'll see you there." - Renée Davidson

Oregon's Whiskies

Pendleton Whiskey - A Canadian whiskey that is distilled north of the border, but finished and bottled in Oregon by Hood River Distillers.

Hogshead Whiskey - A grain-based whiskey produced by McMenamins Edgefield distillery.

McCarthey's Whiskey - A scotch style single malt from Clear Creek Distillery in Parkdale.


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