To celebrate that special time of year when it’s grayest in Portland and the dreaded taxes are due, HairM hosted a “Tax Relief Whiskey Tasting” VIP event, which featured three of the top whiskeys from the region; Dry Fly Distilling and their Washington Wheat Whiskey, Hood River Distributors and their famous Pendleton brand and Indio Spirits and their Snake River Stampede Whisky. While the spirits representatives were pouring whiskey and the HairM staff was chatting with Members and VIP’s, three questions that kept creeping into conversations regarding the mysteries of whiskey:
- Why are there two spellings for whisky/whiskey?
- What’s the difference between Whiskey, Scotch, Irish, Kentucky and Bourbon & Rye (all, in the same brown category)?
- Why does whiskey seem so sexy good/bad that we turn our heads when someone orders it?
So, I jump on the (somewhat) trusted Internet only to discover a great article written by Eric Asimov of The New York Times. When someone at this highly regarded publication has the same question, I know that others must wonder the same. Mr. Asimov did the work for me/us by contacting Jesse Sheidlower; Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary and this (along with giving the Times writer some constructive criticism) is what he said: “It’s almost universally the case that the word is spelled ‘whisky’ in Scotland and Canada, and ‘whiskey’ elsewhere, and that, as you have seen, people really do care about this as an important distinction.” Which means, for our event, we should have referred to both Pendleton and Snake River Stampede as Whisky, since they are distilled in Canada and Dry Fly as a Washington State Whiskey since “elsewhere” it is spelled whiskey. Whew, so first thing is to change spelling of the title of this blog since we are “elsewhere,” right? Which brings me to the next question of the difference between Whiskey, Rye, Scotch, Bourbon, Kentucky and Irish. Jumping again online, there are thousands of answers and as I delve into solving this, in a simplistic manner, everything becomes more complicated. Here’s my understanding, based on a site I found called “Real Men Drink Whiskey,” with more details on things like aging and alcohol content, written by Sean Lind. “Whiskey is any booze distilled from fermented grain mash, with the exception of course, of when it is made from corn, which doesn’t have to be aged. The difference between whiskeys relies mostly on the type of grain used for the mash.”
- Rye typically comes from rye mash but can also include other ingredients such as corn and barley.
- Scotch is whisky made from malted barley and aged no less than three years and 100% of the time it’s from… well… Scotland.
- Bourbon is whiskey made from a grain mixture, which is at least 51% corn and can only be labeled as bourbon if made in the United States.
- Tennessee whiskey is straight bourbon made in the state of Tennessee and Irish whiskey is aged in Ireland. Whew!
Which brings me to the final question: why is whiskey so sexy bad that it’s good? For some reason when someone orders whiskey, for me, it conjures up visions of cowboys, fighter pilots, and sexy self-made people. So, when I made the decision to try a whiskey drink instead of my standard dry martini (Hendrix gin, shaken not stirred, with cucumbers instead of olives) I was a bit shy with my first order. Only then did I discover that men also turn their heads, a bit impressed, especially when I order a “call” liquor. Maybe it’s because my voice naturally goes into a deep, raspy tone of “whiskey please,” only to be followed with something like “an Old Fashioned, muddled with no sugar.” Hmmm, I feel sexy even writing this! So, here’s a toast to whiskey and to HairM for putting together a fun event and the three amazing whisk(e)y makers who each have their own unique recipe of ingredients and distinct methods that make their whiskey/whisky so good/bad and desirably interesting. Dry Fly Distilling, Indio Spirits and Hood River Distillers. And please—make sure that you “call” one of their whisk(e)y’s, the next time you feel so inclined. Oh, and one other thing that I found that I thought summed up everything about the evening at HairM and whiskey in general, ultimately, the translation of whiskey is of Medieval Latin aqua vitae literally, water of life. Ah… that explains it all.
Written by Michele O’Hara a brand specialist working with HairM & Portland Men’s Guide Additional photos from the event: