Is it “Whisky” or “Whiskey”?

First Republic Bank
May 3, 2021

Please note, the content of this webinar is suitable for those over the age of 21. 

Is whiskey the same as bourbon? What about rye and scotch? What are the differences between Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskey? If you know the answers to these questions, you’re probably either a connoisseur of this fine spirit or a bartender — because these distinctions can cause confusion for the rest of us.

Pour a glass of your favorite whiskey and watch as expert Blake Tucker discusses how to develop an appreciation for the traditions, types and tastes of whiskey and pick your perfect evening drink. Tucker will teach us about the fermentation of grains, distillation and aging in wooden barrels that leads to different classes and types of whiskey. With so many brands flooding the market, the retail shelves have turned into a sea of brown liquor that could overwhelm the average drinker. We’ll answer the aforementioned questions and more while exploring the whiskeys of the world and what makes them so unique.

Read below for a full transcript of the conversation. 

David Bloom - Well, good afternoon, good evening to everyone. My name is David Bloom, Senior Managing Director in Business Banking at First Republic Bank. Thank you to you all for joining us to our whiskey event tonight. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing our guest, Blake Tucker. Blake is an expert in all classes of libations and has experience from end to end within the industry. For 20 years, he has worked with makers and distillers, formulating recipes, filling bottles, and ultimately finding customers. With his knowledge and restaurant background, Blake brings a deep understanding of beverage taste, flavor, and pairing. He has had speaking engagements both on TV, and industry events around the Bay Area like Exploratorium Science of the Cocktails. Since 2019, Blake has served as beverage director at Tastes Catering, one of the most well-respected catering services in the Bay Area. And today, Blake often appears as Dr. Inkwell, the founder of Boozephreaks, and Boozephreaks with a PH. Since 2009, Boozephreaks has brought people in the San Francisco Bay Area together to learn about their libations, meet their local distillers, and share the international culture of spirits. As Dr. Inkwell Blake was the host of In The Know, spirits segment on local TV program CHN now, and hosted numerous whiskey education events throughout the Bay Area. Passionate about helping customers understand the culture, history, and formulation of their drinks, Blake's catchphrase is "I don't want you to drink more, I want you to drink well." You can find Blake's cocktail videos on Instagram and YouTube at Before we start, a quick housekeeping note. You're welcome to submit questions during the seminar. To submit a question, please use the Q&A icon at the bottom of the screen. We will try to answer as many questions as we can live during the webinar. Also, this event is being recorded, and will be replayed on First Republic Bank website. With that, I welcome Blake. Blake, take it away, and thank you for being here.

Blake Tucker - Hello. Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here. First Republic has been awesome to do this whole series of webinars, and I'm excited to be here to tell you a little bit about whiskey, and how to understand the world of whiskey, and maybe help you make your own choices as well. I do have a little bit of slides here you can see next to me. I will actually swap those around. I also have the ability to show you some bottles. I will do that when we get to the categories themselves, but I want to give you a little bit of an introduction first, so we'll start with that. I do have the ability to cover and change the cameras too. So if there are questions later on in the session, I can, you know, do some of that in depth as well. So without further ado, let's talk about whiskey. I love talking about whiskey. So importantly here, I want to tell you, first of all, what the sort of agenda is today. I'm going to give you a little bit of about me, a little bit of definition of what whiskey is, a little bit of history, and then we're going to talk about a couple of important things that make whiskey different, how it varies around the world. That comes to distillation, ingredients, aging and finishing. And then I will go into the individual bottles at the latter portion of the event, and we'll talk about different categories and some whiskies themselves. So I already got an introduction here, but I wanted to tell you, you know, the fun thing about all of this is that Boozephreaks is actually named after Herb Cain, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was a freeway columnist who wrote about whatever he wanted, and one of the things that he wrote about was named freaks, people he came across whose names were oddly appropriate for what they did. So in particular, he met an electrician named Bob Shock.

He met a woman who worked in City Hall and took old marriage certificates or old deeds when properties were sold, and she would cancel them, and her name was Nancy Cansler. And that was my inspiration to do something very local, inspired by a writer that I loved, and that's where Boozephreaks comes from, is named after named freaks that thread in his column about people whose names were oddly appropriate for what they did, and that's why I go by Dr. Inkwell because I don't want you to drink more, I want you to drink well. So, you know, you may know me as Blake, but you may know me as Dr. Inkwell. I love both of those things. So let's talk about whiskey. Whiskey itself, the definition is defined by the Tobacco and Trade Bureau in the United States. So it's a government agency that defines spirit definitions. And in particular, this is the code for a whiskey itself. The first thing we'll notice is that in America, we use the word whiskey with an E in it, and even in the code, they use whisky with no E. So what's the difference here? Well, there's not much difference. It's really the Scots that spell it without the E, and the rest of the world, maybe except for the Japanese who are sort of creating a whiskey category that is similar to scotch. Also, they don't use an E. So there was no real difference here. You can spell it either way. It's traditional in America to spell with an E. So that's what we do here. The important note here on the TTB code is that whiskey possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky. How is that possible? That's crazy. Yes, they define a lot of things by the tradition of what that is. In particular, there's a couple of points you need to know about this. Whiskey is a distilled product made from grain, and it's supposed to keep the quality of its original material. And so you distill it less than 190 proof. That helps preserve the grain that it is made from, to preserve that taste. Secondarily, whiskey needs to be aged in oak containers. That is what makes whiskey whiskey, and distinguishes it from something like a white dog, or an unaged whiskey that you might find out in the marketplace. So where does whiskey come from?

The word whiskey is probably from a Gaelic word, oosh ka buh, which is essentially the word for water of life. If you say oosh ka buh a lot, oosh ka, oosh ka, you start to get a little bit of a whiskey sound, and that's probably where whiskey came from. Water of life is also a translation that often goes into other languages and means the exact same thing. So if you speak Latin aqua vitae, which is also Aquavit, another type of distilled spirit in French OTV, which is what we would make a fruit into when we distill that. Norwegian, Russian, vodka means water. So all of these things are related because they're distilled. The distilled beverage is really what creates whiskey in this case. There's really two parts of whiskey in terms of flavor profile. The first part is about that grain as I mentioned, where that grain comes from, how it's grown, that liquid before it's barrel aged is about half of the flavor of whiskey. After that, you have barrel aging, and that has a huge impact on flavor too. So we have to measure these two things, and know that our category is going to be defined by these two different elements. So let's talk about how to make that liquid in the first place. When you're distilling something, you are taking, essentially, I like to explain it this way. If you see this rainbow here, think of distillation as taking a fermented beverage, which is a full rainbow. And when we distill it, we want to focus on only one element of that full rainbow, one little space. And there's three different main types of stills that we use in distillation, and each of those can have a very distinct effect on what the final product tastes like. So in a pot still, that's a more traditional, older technology that we would use, and what's used traditionally in a scotch maker. The pot still gives you a fairly good focus on one color, but you do get a little bit of extra flavorings from the things that are around that. A column still is a very tall still and has these reflux places where the concentration of alcohol gets higher and higher, and that means, of course, we get a narrower and narrower focus on that color itself. The last portion you can think about is a continuous still or a column still.

That should say continuous on that third portion. The continuous still operates continuously, can turn out a lot of liquid, and it basically minimizes the other portions of that focus on a color. So you get a very distinctive focus on that color, but you do get a tiny, tiny bit of overflow from those other spaces. So if you think of distillation that way, I think it really helps understand, you know, how that can have an effect on the flavor of the liquid itself. In terms of what you put into that liquid, well, grains of course are the thing that make whiskey whiskey. So what kind of grains? Well, each style of whiskey might focus on a particular grain, but all of them do have an allowance for making a whiskey out of any type of grain. So it may be corn, it may be barley, it may be rye, but there are distillers that are using all sorts of other things. Sometimes oats, sometimes millet, you know, sorghum, all of these other things are also used, and it is the entire world of grains and cereals that really are what make whiskey whiskey. You may hear the word malt or malting in whiskey making, and malting is actually the germination of the seed. So if you think about grains, grains are made from complex carbohydrates, and it's simple sugars that the bacteria need that convert sugars to alcohol in order for that process to kick off. They're not able to really understand. Carbohydrates, they're too complex. So those carbohydrates need to get broken down into sugars. The malting process, the telling of that seed that, hey, it's okay to germinate to turn into a plant, that tells the seed it can convert all of it's carbohydrates into sugars. And then we want to stop that process so that we can hold those sugars for when we introduce our yeast and our bacteria to create alcohol. So the word malting is that process of telling the seed to germinate, but that's stopping that process. So that's an important word in whiskey making, malting. I want you to understand that because that gets us to, actually, I'm going to go back and tell you a little bit more about these grains. So of all of the grains, it is barley that actually contains the enzyme that creates that conversion from starch to sugar.

And so barley is really the easiest thing to turn into whiskey, the easiest fermented product to then distill. So you'll find in traditional whiskey making, especially scotch, which might be the oldest scotch and Irish whiskey are the oldest whiskeys that we really know today, and they're generally made from barley because of this reason. But if you look at more modern distilling, you'll discover, well, barley is used in some portion in a lot of whiskey making because of this influence that this enzyme has in converting those carbohydrates into sugars. So there's a little overview of making the liquid itself. Once you have a liquid, then you want the barrel agent. That's the other really important part of whiskey making. So let's talk about that. Well, if you put something in a barrel, what's going to happen? The barrel is generally held in a warehouse of some sort, and that warehouse may be very, very large. It may contain a great number of barrels, and it's probably not temperature-controlled. So the atmosphere, the weather of the country you're distilling in may have a huge effect on that aging process, and then inside the barrel, what's actually happening is throughout the course of a year, that barrel is being influenced by temperature. So in the winter months, it gets very cold and that means everything gets a little bit smaller a little bit tighter that seals the whiskey inside. When it gets warmer, the pores on the oak will open up and you'll also have more potentially evaporated liquid in the container. This is what whiskey aging does. You have this constant stretching of coolest and warmness of the wood itself when it gets warm and opens up, it's absorbing more of that liquid that we just made, and then when it gets cold, it's pushing it out. So what does that process do? It actually is the ethanol is in a way being, it's dissolving parts of the wood, especially flavor, compounds in the wood, and then when the wood pushes it back out, those flavors go into the liquid itself.

We burn the inside of barrels. It's called charring, that charred wood or that's how we make charcoal, that has an absorptive effect on the liquid, which is to say it will tame down wild flavors. If you think of a Brita filter, that's actually charcoal in there. It's doing the same thing. It's removing flavors. Charcoal has an effect of removing things from liquids. So that charred barrel is both removing some of the crazy flavors that are in there that may come out from the distillation process, but we're also infusing the wood into the barrel itself. So that's an important part of a whiskey barrel aging. Another thing that's happening is that as that temperature is getting higher and lower, depending on the climate, the alcohol level of the liquid inside may either go up or go down depending on the ambient moisture outside, and how much evaporate there is inside that barrel. So if you think about this, there are some places where the alcohol level will go up because a lot more alcohol is escaping of that barrel. And by the way, when that alcohol disappears from the barrel because that's just part of barrel aging, you're going to lose some of it, that's called the angels' share, because the angels get inside and they steal some, right? because they drink some. So that's why there's a little illustration here of the angel drinking a little bit out of a barrel. The other thing that can happen is that alcohol level can actually go down by being influenced by a lot of moisture in the air outside and that coming into the barrel too. So that evaporation is an important thing. You also get a bit of oxidization, which is to say, you know, oxygen gets in there and influences the wood, it influences the liquid as well, and that can have a big effect on alcohol. You know that when you open a bottle of wine, you have a limited number of time to drink that because oxygen and alcohol do interact and it will break down your wine.

That does actually happen in high strength spirits. It just takes place on a much longer scale. So we don't notice it as much, but whiskeys that are several hundred years old will eventually go back. The other thing that's really important of course is that if that liquid is interacting with the wood, how much surface area is it able to interact with? The standard barrel, which is a cask of 53 gallons in the United States has X number of surface area. If you put that whiskey in a smaller barrel, you're going to have more liquid exposed to more surface area. That doesn't necessarily speed up your aging process, but it does mean that the wood is going to have a different influence on the liquid. There's been a lot of experiments in the last 10, 20 years, about trying to increase surface area, but it turns out that the oxidization part, the ambient temperature, those actually are a very important part of this aging process, and you can't just bypass those by adding more surface area. The last thing that's really important to think about here is that this isn't a very simple process. You have your distillate interacting with the wood and the wood interacting with the distillate. And what may happen is you may have, you know, flavonoid or lignin or some other tasting element in the whiskey that then interacts with the wood, and those two chemicals might link together and create a flavor compound. So let's say that's A and B. So A and B form this thing called C. And now C is in your liquid. Now, we're spending even more time letting that thing age and C has formed and it's inside the liquid. Now, you may have not just A and B in the liquid in the wood, but you might have D and E in the liquid and the wood. And let's say D and E get together, and they form something we'll call F. So now we have, C and F both in the liquid. Well, C and F can interact with each other and also produce new compounds. So this is part of why surface area is not just what it's all about. There's a lot of other things happening in here.

We're really sort of digging into this science in the present day and age and starting to really understand it, but all of those interactions can produce a lot of different flavors. And that's why barrel aging is such an important part and influences such a significant portion of the flavor of your whiskey. So now I've given you a little bit of background there so that you can understand how that works. A note about.... Yes.

Valerie Ulrich - Sorry. Before you leave, could you talk a little bit more about the esters please?

Blake - So esters, so there are different portions of different things that we'll put into whiskey. So all of the different grains and stuff. When you do a distillation, you are focusing in, as I mentioned, on the ethanol itself. And ethanol is a fairly complex molecule and so it may... The ethanol molecule is actually water-soluble on one side, and oil soluble on the other, and so it may be carrying different flavor compounds. Those flavor compounds or flavor notes are often called esters and they can have a broad spectrum of different things that they may evoke. It might be the taste of banana or the smell of banana. It might be, you know, just wood. It might be vanilla. There's a lot of different things that those esters evoke, and it's those esters themselves that create the sort of flavor profile of your whiskey. And as I mentioned, that comes not just from your distillate, but also from the influence of the wood and the way that that interaction is facilitated by the ambient temperature, the ambient moisture, all of that stuff. So without digging too much, we'd have a lot to cover here. Essentially, those little flavor compounds are changed and influenced by both the liquid itself and by the aging process.

Valerie - Let me ask one really another question. You mentioned a couple of times about bacteria converting sugars in whiskey production, what is the mechanism?

Blake - So we have, you know, in some ways, you can think of the yeast as the oldest relationship with an animal that we have as a culture because yeast have been used to make bread, it's used to make alcohol fermentation for thousands and thousands of years. So this is kind of our first team to animal. This animal itself survives by eating sugars, and when it eats those sugars, the things that it releases as a by-product are carbon dioxide and alcohol. So that's where a little bit of our, when you, you know you leave something out for too long like a juice goes out for too long, it starts to get a little fizzy, that's what's happening. It's those bacteria. They're eating the sugars, and they're letting out, they're exuding carbon dioxide and alcohol. So hopefully that gives you a little bit of a sense as to what those are. In modern distillation, we have a lot of ways we can control that. We have factories now that can breed different types of bacteria that bring out different flavors, or work better with some grains. But I don't want to go into too much depth. We have a lot to cover today. So let me move on, and let me say, you know, oak containers, I mentioned that surface area can have a huge impact in terms of looking at a label of whiskey. Whenever there's an age statement, it's important to know that that's the youngest thing in the bottle. That doesn't mean there's nothing older in it, but if you see something that says, you know, four years old, it's possible it could have something older in it before is the youngest thing in the bottle itself. There are different char levels, different ways we burn the inside of a barrel that can have a significant factor on how your whiskey ages. Excuse me. There's a few different char levels that we use, just a thing to note there. In wine aging, when you age wine in a barrel like a chardonnay, that's not going to be burned. It's going to be toasted. So you get just a tiny influence of that charcoal. You get a lot more of a wood influence. So there's an important distinction to make between whiskey aging and other types of barrel aging like wine aging. And of course, you know, time is a huge factor too.

But the important thing here is to note that the barrel, when anybody says barrel, they should be referring to the 53 gallon cask. Casks come in all sorts of different sizes, from one leader in Sherry making. They're very, very big. So I will move on from here. Now, in terms of storing oak, that big warehouse, the rickhouse, that's what it's often called, the space where you keep all of your barrels, that space itself is actually, you need to think about that space too because if it's a giant warehouse and has, often, the barrels are stacked, maybe five or even seven high, sometimes even higher, that means that the temperature at the floor level and the temperature at the top of that stack are going to be different, as well as the temperature at the outsides of the warehouse versus the temperature at the inside the center of the warehouse. So it's really important to think about that as also being a big influence on casks. And that's why today, especially in the hyper-marketed spirits world that we live in today, you may have a single barrel of whiskey and it'll say single barrel on it. That means what's in that bottle came from one barrel rather than being a blend of all of the barrels from one batch. When you get that single barrel, that means that barrel, you know, was somewhere in that warehouse. It might've been in a corner somewhere, it might've been in the center, but whatever happened there, that barrel was knighted as a special barrel because the insides just tasted better than the other barrels in the warehouse. That's what a single barrel is. Often these warehouses are not temperature controlled. So you have to think about, you know, the influence of the weather outside and how it can penetrate the outsides more than it can the insides. And so that whole warehouse has quite a different array of flavors depending on the barrel you're into. Some rickhouses, some barrel-aging facilities will move the barrels around in order to try to keep that influence less disparate amongst the barrels, but this is something I don't think that we think about as whiskey drinkers, but once you get into the nitty gritty here, it's actually really important to think about how that warehouse, you know, how big was it, how many barrels were in it? What was the weather outside?

That all has a big factor, a significant influence on whiskey. So now that we've talked about all of the production and how we get into whiskey, I want to take a little time to talk about whiskey categories and to show you some bottles. And, you know, I haven't stopped a lot for questions right now because I do have a lot of ground to cover, but they're definitely time for questions along the way, and I will definitely open it up for questions if we have extra time at the end. So the major categories today are really these five categories. Bourbon and rye, which are American whiskeys, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, Scotch from Scotland, and Japanese whiskey. There's a broad array of other whiskeys out there too which I will mention at the end, but I want to talk about these six categories from our five countries first at the beginning. So I'm giving you a general overview so you can understand what these different whiskey categories are. And so when you pick up a bottle of whiskey in the future, hopefully, you'll be able to figure it out right away and then have some ideas as to what went into it, and how much you may like that particular flavor because of what you know you like so far. So let's talk about bourbon. So bourbon must be at least 51% corn. So bourbon is a corn spirit. That's the grain that it is made from. The remaining parts of a bourbon have to be corn, wheat, rye, malted rye, or malted barley. There are some other grains possible, but the definition actually lists these. In America, you must age in a new charred American oak barrel. So that means that we have with that statue, created an oak barrel building industry in the United States. That's a very important part of why bourbon is bourbon. You can't use a previously used barrel. It has to be new. That also means that once you empty that barrel out, you now have a barrel that has some bourbon influence flavor, but you can't use it again if you're going to make bourbon. That creates a whole secondary market for other spirits that are allowed to use used barrels. So there's a very kind of clever big business approach in the way that the bourbon definition is written.

There's some other details here about ABV level, but I do want to note that there is a misconception that bourbon must be made in Kentucky. That's not true. It can be made anywhere in the lower 48 states. In fact, there is a whiskey maker in Hawaii who can't call his whiskey bourbon because he's not in the legal definition. But it is an American bourbon, you know, it's an American corn spirits so your results may vary. So that's the important thing about what bourbon is. It's a corn spirit. That's why it has a little bit of a more of a sweetness than other whiskeys, and I think of that sweetness as kind of caramel corn. That's what makes bourbon bourbon. It's made from corn. One thing to note here, the secondary grains in bourbon making tend to be one or two different grains. Most bourbon makers today are using a large portion of corn, and that secondary grain is rye. And the reason that is that you can get a mature-tasting whiskey if you use rye in less time than if you use wheat. Wheat is the second most common secondary grain in bourbon making. So generally, if you go out and you look at bourbons, you're either going to find a corn and rye with a little tiny bit of barley, as I mentioned before, because that really makes that process work. That's going to be most of the bourbons out there. And then you'll have a smaller group of wheated bourbons. Bourbons who are mostly corn, have a little tiny bit of wheat, and of course that tiny bit of barley that you need to make that process work. So those are the two kind of general things that you'll find in the marketplace. We can dig into that maybe a little bit later if we have time. There is one other category of major whiskey in the United States and that's rye. And essentially, rye is a carbon copy of the definition of bourbon with corn replaced by rye grain. So rye is made from rye grain. It must be 51%. The remaining has to be one of these other grains or cereals.

Again, it has to be new, charred, American oak to be aged in, and everything else is pretty much the same. So if you're out there and shopping for rye, you'll find, rye itself, again, is going to have two different separate secondary grains. Often it's wheat, sometimes, I mean, often it's corn, sometimes it's wheat, and there are a lot more high rye production makers these days. But rye is an American spirit. It's the other major spirit that we make in the US. One thing I like to note about spirits around the world, is that generally, the country of origin keeps its best spirits that it makes. It's very difficult to get a really, really good bourbon if you don't live in the United States, just as it is very difficult to get a really good Calvados if you live in France. That's the spirit they drink there. Same with Pisco if you're in Peru and there are also some other examples of this, but we live in the country that makes bourbon and rye so those are the two things that you have a lot of access to. Hopefully, you like them because you have access to really good things. Let's move to our next country, which is Canada. So Canada obviously makes whiskeys. The first definition of Canadian whiskey is that it has to be made in Canada. The second is that it's blended. It's blended ages, it's blended grains. Here is one of our first distinguishing factor that makes Canadian whiskey different from American whiskey. And that is that instead of doing a mix of grains, so in America, when you make a bourbon, you have to mix your corn with your rye and your barley together, and make a fermentation from that and then distill that, that's called a mash bill. What mash of grains are you putting together to create your distillate? In Canada, generally, they make single distillate of each type of grain they might use. So this is the corn distillate, and this is the rye distillate, and this is the wheat distillate. They're all distinct in Canada. I like to think of the whiskey that comes from Canada as tailor-made. Instead of giving you a big roll of fabric and telling you, you know, go make something delicious out of this, in Canada, they're like, we're going to tailor a suit to your exact specifications.

So they're using individual grains, aged a whole variety of different years, and then when they're making a whiskey, they'll use all these different elements and blend them together in the bottle to create the whiskey. Generally, when distillation happens in Canadian whiskey, we have our base spirit, which is, you know, basically it's going to be a rye. Rye of course grows better in colder climates. So a lot of Canadian whiskey is rye. Oh, and you know what? I have some bottles I want to show you actually. So I want to go back. Let me go back one step and just say about bourbon. I did want to mention a couple of bourbons that I love since we're here, and I will switch that out. So here on the bourbon side, I have Four Roses bourbon. Four Roses is a really good base bourbon, really great for making your old fashions or your cocktails, something that is a great mixer. One thing that is really great about bourbon, and Four Roses in particular, is there was a bit of a kerfuffle in the bourbon industry in the last few years about where bourbon is actually made. And now, it is required in the United States for you to say where it's distilled. If you look at the back of a Four Roses bottle, and here I can demonstrate for you, I can, you know, let me actually get up super close so you can see this. On a Four Roses bottle, you will see here it says, distilled and bottled at Four Roses. This is something that is a bit different out there depending on what you decide you wanted to drink. Some bottles will say distilled in Kentucky, bottled by, and that's an indicator that there was an exchange that happened somewhere. Someone bought that liquid from someone who made it, and then maybe they did something to it, maybe they didn't. It's very possible that they just slapped their own label on this bottle, and then, you know, charged twice as much and said this is my grandmother's recipe or whatever. But it may be that a maker like a Jefferson's, which is a great example of this.

Like the Jefferson's does not have a distillery, but it does have tons of warehouses for barrels. So they'll buy something and then age it further, and then mix these different ages together. And so there is a whole thing that's happening there that does influence the flavor of it. But note, they're not distilling the actual liquid. The other bourbon that I like, a very hard to find bourbon, is this I.W. Harper in this beautiful bottle. I think this is to the level of a very high-end bourbon like a Pappy Van Winkle, but it doesn't cost nearly as much. So if you are a bourbon drinker and you love a bourbon especially if you like it on the rocks or very simple, check out this I.W. Harper. This is the 15th year. It's a little bit hard to find but it is a really great bottle. So let me tell you again about rye in the same way. One rye that I love and another good example of a local distiller, and this is something I love to promote too because, you know, we're headed towards an age of, you know, potentially problems, spending a lot of energy, shipping things around the world. So why not learn how to drink locally and find really local things that you love? So this is Sonoma Distilling Company rye. It's a 100% rye. So as I mentioned before, you just need a tiny bit of that barley or that enzyme to kickoff the distillation, I mean, the fermentation process in order to get your juice to come out right, to get your distillation to come out right, and this, you know, it's very possible that you can use 100% rye to make your ryes, and this is one like that. I really like where they're headed. This is small little independent distiller and they make great stuff. If you live in the Bay Area, it's a little bit easier to find here. But Sonoma ryes are really awesome. So check that one out too. I was going to mention Canadian whiskey. This is what reminded me. Lot 40 is a Canadian rye. This is also a great bottle. Check this out. 43% alcohol, and, you know, it says on the back, crafted in small batches by Lot 49. As I mentioned before, the track I was on before is about the different streams of liquids that go into a Canadian whiskey.

They can use tailored enzymes too. In many countries, you're not allowed to use enzymes, they can use enzymes. So that means that they can go in at the beginning of a distillation, or even the beginning of a fermentation process and introduce an enzyme that's going to give a certain flavor profile and correct that mashville, you know, that they're using and create flavors. It's really a tailored process to make a Canadian whiskey. Another thing that's really interesting here is that we have a close trading relationship with Canada. We've had a long partnership with them. Canadian whiskey actually has this rule called the 9.09% rule. And to further exemplify the idea of tailored flavors in a Canadian whiskey, they're allowed by the American code to put 9.09% of whatever they want into a whiskey bottle. That could be wine, that could be flavoring agents, that could be anything. That sounds really scary because what if it's just white juice with all this dye and stuff? It's possible that 9.09% rule allows them to customize that flavor. Are they abusing this? I don't think so. But note, you know, you're going to get some of that if you buy a apple-flavored Canadian whiskey. It's probably a flavoring agent and not using real apples. So note there the 9.09% rule is an interesting little wrinkle in the world of whiskey. All right. Irish whiskey. Let's talk about Irish whiskey. So I've got two things here. The fun thing about Irish whiskey is Irish whiskey is kind of in the world that we were in about 20 or 30 years ago. If you think about distillers in the US, there's a lot of interest in spirits. In the last 20 years, we've had our cocktail revolution. We've kind of rediscovered the world of cocktails and the world of spirits in the United States. That means that we've gone from about 200 distillers in the US in the year 2000 to about 2,000 distillers today. So that's how crazy the industry has gotten. Ireland is in the middle of that. They had five distillers just a few years ago because Irish whiskey production was almost entirely, they sold all of their whiskies to the US in the early 20th century. And then we passed prohibition and suddenly they had no customers and almost, you know, they all went out of business.

So they had five distillers left for the last hundred years or so. And only now, now that the world is rediscovering whiskeys and spirits, are they starting to rediscover their identity. So what is it about Irish whiskey that has made Irish whiskey what it is because they're in the midst of sort of a revolution? It might be changing what the identity of Irish whiskey is, but the things you should know is essentially, there are three types of ways that they make this. And let me convert back to that. Other things, you can see this a little bit more clearly. They use a single pot still. We mentioned the pot still is a little older technology. It gives a little bit more of a unfocused flavor, which means a lot of interesting compounds that make a whiskey interesting. Single pot still, a double distillation and a triple distillation. Sometimes these three are mixed together. In fact, at Tullamore Dew, they do mix those three types together. Under the British crown in the difficult days, the Brits would tax Irish whiskey according to the amount of malted barley that was inside. So the Irish being clever started using on unmalted barley. And that's why we get some of these grassier lighter hip, like almost floral flavors in Irish whiskey because that unmalted barley, right? It hasn't completely converted those carbohydrates into sugars that can really add these other flavors that we're not expecting because it's not a hundred percent sugars and it doesn't really get completely consumed by our bacteria. Has to be aged three years in Ireland. Caramel coloring is allowed there. And one note, in Scotland, Scotland, because they have had a lot of distilleries everywhere, and I'm about to talk to this when we talk about scotch, a lot of distilleries in Scotland have things that they make, and then they discover like it doesn't really work in the blend that I'm working on, and they'll trade it with each other. So there's an open trading thing that happens between makers in Scotland. That doesn't really happen in other parts of the world, including here in Ireland.

So if they're looking for varied things, they're going to make them all, and then barrel age them and then try to use them later. So it's a little bit like Canadian, but not nearly as custom made. This Egan's Irish whiskey that I have here to show you, this is, you'll note, a single malt. So Ireland has really been exploring the single malt idea, and I think as their revolution continues, you'll see a lot more of this. It's flavor profiles that are closer to scotches, things that are more smoky or, you know, have this kind of flavors that scotch has. That is continuing to come out in Ireland and actually around the world. But let's talk about Scotland because there's a lot of scotch drinkers out there, and I know that you love your scotches. So if we're talking about scotch, obviously it has to be made in Scotland. Most scotch is made from barley only. As I mentioned, barley is the grain that really easily converts to sugars. But they do do some other grains as well. But predominantly, it's just barley. There's no enzymes allowed in Scotland. Three years is the minimum to age something. In America, we don't have a minimum age. You didn't see that on that slide. So technically, if you throw your bourbon in for a month, it's a bourbon. Is it going to taste good? No. So most distillers don't do that, but there is no age requirement in the US. A scotch must be matured in oak casks. Now, it doesn't say new casks, and neither does Irish whiskey, or even Canadian whiskey. In fact, in Canadian aging, they'll often use those barrels until they break. So they'll use, you know, reuse them. They don't have to be cleaned or emptied. They just dump the next whiskey right in. In Scotland, generally, that's where we sell our bourbon barrels. A lot of scotches are aged in bourbon barrels. Like I said, America makes this whole aftermarket of used barrels, and everybody else around the world doesn't have the new requirements. So we sell our barrels all over the place. Pot stills are used predominantly in Scotland, I think exclusively for most distillers.

And then the last thing is when you tell that barley to germinate, you want to stop that process, and you stop it by drying out the barley. Well, in Scotland, there's not a lot of forests. So what did they turn to to dry out the barley? But there's a lot of swamps in Scotland. So the peat, the buildup of organic matter in the wet parts of swampy areas can actually be burned. But it doesn't flame, it just smokes. That smoke has got a lot of heat in it, and it's great for drying out barley. That smoke element actually is so small that it will survive the distillation process. And that's where the smoky flavors in scotch come from, from that drying out of the peat, drying out of the barley by using smoky peat. I mentioned the whiskey trading already. So let's move on to scotch categories. Well, single malt, I mentioned malting is that process of drying out the barley. So when you hear the term single malt, the way you decode that is single means it was made at one distillery, and malt means it's made only from barley. So a single grain scotch is made at one distillery, but has barley and these other grains that are possible. A blended malt again, is a blend of different distilleries, but it is only barley because it's a malt, blended malt. A blended grain is, I'm skipping to the bottom here. Blended grain is a blend of different distilleries with barley and other things. And then finally, your last category is blended scotch, and it could be multiple grains, or a mixture of multiple grains plus just barley liquids and made in multiple distilleries. So that's what a blended scotch is. These are the five types of scotch that you'll find today. There are also five regions in which scotch is made. Speyside, highlands, those are the two biggest categories where most of the distillers are. There are a few distillers in the lowlands. Campbeltown is this tiny little peninsula, and they do have a few distillers there. And then Islay, Islay is the islandy area. It tends to be moister. It tends to be foggy. That means you need a lot more smoke to dry things out, and so the Islay scotches tend to be the smokier ones because of where they are.

Japanese whiskey. Let's talk about that. Japanese whiskey is essentially a clone of the Scottish definition. And in fact, they had no legal definition because there's really only a couple of distillers in Japan. There's six really. Suntory and Nikka make most of the whiskey that is in Japan, and that stuff that gets exported. There's a few other distillers, but they may not be distilling full-time. They're probably predominantly making fermented products, whether that's beer or sokka, and they may only make distilled products, you know, a portion of the year. So essentially, they're taking what Scotland is doing and trying to do it themselves. And they've been very successful at this, especially in the last 20 years. They use Scottish techniques and it's only last year. No, it was only this year. No, it was 2019. Only last year when the Japanese government finally came up with a list of the definition of Japanese whiskey. Unfortunately, they didn't make it mandatory. So they have a definition, but it's optional. So that means distillers still can do whatever they want. There's no real definition for what Japanese whiskey is except that it is scotch-like, and it basically, all those distillers are looking at the Scottish rules and doing the same thing. So that means three years, that means, you know, they're following the protocol in terms of single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain. The other thing to note is that Japanese whiskey, you know, it's a fairly small island, a fairly small population, and they never anticipated the success of Japanese whiskey worldwide, which meant for years, they did age statements just like you would find in scotch. In Scotland, you'll find a lot of scotches can have decades, aging 12, 15, 18, 25-year-old scotches because it's a colder climate there. You're not going to get that in bourbon very often. That I.W. Harper is pretty exceptional because it's 15 years old. If you're aging in a Kentucky warehouse where most of the distillers are, it's a lot warmer than it is in Scotland. So you can't age quite as long. In Japan, they didn't anticipate the success. And so they had to convert out of the age statement whiskeys. This Hibiki, for example, does not have an age statement on it because they've depleted their stocks of these aged whiskeys, and now they have to take a different approach.

They take a blended approach now where they'll take things that are very old, mix them with younger things, and find a really delightful middle ground. This has become the new definition of Japanese whiskey, this blended approach. This Hibiki bottle has this beautiful outside with all of these different sides. It's meant to represent time. Each of these different facets is like the moment of time inside the barrel or the moment that it ages. There's a lot of thought around presentation in Japanese whiskey and the thoughtfulness about not being too outrageous is part of the flavor profile too. So if you haven't checked out Japanese whiskey, I really think you should. There's some really great stuff. Let's talk about other categories. Well, there is other categories of American whiskey that take this idea of bourbon and rye's definition and apply it to other things. I have seen out there oat whiskeys, quinoa whiskeys, lots of other interesting grains turned into whiskeys. In fact, there's a great bourbon maker that instead of using rye or wheat as a secondary grain, uses millet and it's got such this different experience than you might get from another whiskey expression. Because Japan was very popular and, you know, discovered this way to make single malt in their own way, now, the entire world has looked at what Japan has done and sort of beating Scotland at their own game in some circles, and now everybody's very interested in making single malt. You'll find single malts from Taiwan, from India, from Austria, from France, everybody's starting to make a single malt including America. So we have a burgeoning American single malt category that hasn't come of age yet. It's still finding its own identity, but there are some really great expressions out there. They're very, very interesting. And because we live in a whiskey-making country, there's a lot of interesting things out there you can find as well. One thing I'll note, there is one particular kind of oak that we age in, and Westland, one of the single lawmakers here, decided to try aging some of their single malt in a different type of oak. This is a very rare species of oak. And so this whiskey has a wildly different flavor than what you would expect because that barrel has such a big influence on it. So it's called Garryana and that's the name of the oak that is different, but there's another interesting thing there to check out. There's innovation happening in the whiskey category. So how do you choose your own whiskey?

How do you find what you like? First of all, if you tasted a few whiskeys, if you never tasted whiskeys, you obviously should taste some samples from each of these categories, and I think that First Republic has some supplied you with a little bit of a list, things that I'm spotlighting today, which are good examples of things to explore those flavors. So first, you want to find out, you know, what country was it made. That's going to have an influence on the flavor. If you're drinking bourbons or American whiskeys, then you do want to look at whether it was distilled by the maker or produced because that'll give you a hint as to whether they bought the juice from someone else or not, but the distillate from someone else or not, and, you know, you want to figure out where they bought it from and maybe that is the distillery that you actually like. So, you know, country of origin is going to have a huge impact of flavor because each country has this different definition as to what their whiskey is. Once you narrow in on a country that you like, then you want to think about what taste do you like. Do you like tasting the grains? Do you like tasting the distillate? Do you like younger spirits? Or do you want it to be older? Do you like tasting more of the barrel side of the flavor? Do you want more of that vanilla and that softness, or that really woody flavor? Do you like that? Or is there some other aspect of it that you like? Knowing then what you like can also help you determine exactly what direction to go in in terms of finding your next whiskey. The last portion, of course, because of the aging process is do you like older, do you like younger? What climates are going to influence the taste of the whiskey that you like? And, you know, what other climates might be like that? I found that a lot of the Islay distillers, the people that like that smokey flavor, sometimes they actually end up liking some of these Indian whiskeys, because they're also focusing on this smokey flavor. So that's kind of, you know, interesting.

You want to go sort of investigate and find that out. Oak types, as I mentioned, this Garryana is really interesting because it's using a bit of a different oak. There's some distillers out there. In fact, there's an Oakland distiller who is trying to unravel the meaning of whiskey by not following any of the rules, but arriving at a very similar flavor profile. That's an interesting thing to go and taste. They're using, you know, barrel chips and wood influence without doing the oxygenation part in the traditional way. They'll actually use some scientific instruments to add oxygen and to influence that thing. There's a lot of distillers also experimenting with scientific process like that to try to get that aging process in a very much more shorter amount of time, because, you know, we don't want to end up like Japan is where we've run out of these aged whiskeys and we have to come up with something else. So think about, you know, what it is that you like, and you can get to where you like by making some thoughtful decisions about what you're choosing.

Valerie - Blake, I want to ask. We only have two minutes left. I want to ask a couple of questions. And one of them is the relation between flavor and proof, and how do manufacturers achieve such a consistent taste?

Blake - Yes. So, you know, one thing I like to talk about is that if you think about those big, big warehouses, especially the brands that have a really big names, something like a Jack Daniels for example, the distiller is a major influence on the flavor there, but they have a separate job for the blender. And the blender has a huge job because they have to take all of these different barrels and all these different warehouses and arrive at the same flavor profiles so that when you buy Jack Daniels now and you buy one in two years, they taste the same. So that is the job of the master blender. How do I take this barrel and this barrel and this barrel and mix them all together to arrive at the same flavor profile? That's a big job. That's an important job. These smaller, independent distillers don't have to worry about that so much because they know their flavors going to vary from bottle to bottle, and I think their consumers are expecting that. Does that answer the question? Now I've lost track of the question.

Valerie - One more quick question. And you know, the website, Vivino, that rates different wines, are you familiar with that? Is there any like that to rate scotch or whiskey?

Blake - There isn't, and this arrives, and I will bring back that other question about proof, this arrives at sort of my final point here, which is the relationship between proof and flavor, and what flavor means to all of us. The relationship between proof and flavor is the higher an alcohol you get of something, the more that you can dissolve those flavor esters and lignans and things, they can be dissolved in that liquid, but it also means that we get more burn out of it. So when you go above a certain percentage of alcohol, you just get a lot of burden and you don't get a lot of flavor. But that does mean that you can add water or make cocktails and get some of that flavor out of it. The lower something is an alcohol, the more broad spectrum of things that we taste. And so that's also related to the temperature, which is to say, when something is high in alcohol and colder, we can taste more of what's in it, that's why cocktails tend to be served at a freezing temperature or just about there. We taste a lot more when we have that in a high-proof thing. So when you're looking at a proof level, percentage of alcohol level, generally, 40 proof is the minimum you need to have in the United States for it to be considered a whiskey. So you're not going to find anything below that, and that, you know, becomes a sort of standard we're used to in terms of tasting things. Now, you know, like theories in the wine industry, wine industries often saying, this is a good wine, this is a bad wine. But the fact of the matter is, and this is part of me as Dr. Inkwell telling you, only you have your taste buds. So only you can decide what's good or bad. I think at best, and this is generally I think, true in the spirits industry. We recognize this with higher percentage of alcohol that people have different likes, and we have to respect that. There's not necessarily, there's a lot of people who love this kind of bourbon and a lot of people who hate that kind of bourbon. So, you know, what's your best way for discovering these things? Talk to a bartender. I think that's a great place to start. Email me. I'd be happy to help you.

Valerie - And with that in mind, Dr. Inkwell, I think you wanted to share some information about you, or if they wanted to get in touch with you.

Blake - Yes, yes.

Valerie - We have to close because our time is up, and we need to respect everybody's calendar.

Blake - I would love too to close. Keep tasting, keep exploring out there, I think, you know, you'll only find wonderful things if you continue to explore on your own. Only you can decide what you like. Note that old isn't always better. I have tasted many of whiskey that has been in a barrel too long, and you don't get any personality out of it. You just get wood. That's true in scotch with blended things. I had some really wonderful blended scotches. Remember that popular things just make them expensive. It doesn't mean necessarily that they're good. I am excited about a non-alcoholic class. There's this a whole new category that's getting a lot of ground right now. I'm doing a Zero de Mayo, Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Class on May 5th. So I'm giving everyone here a $5 off code. You can use WHISKEYTALK on the link to that, and we will follow up. I think First Republic is going to send out an email if you registered for this as well today. Come check out a non-alcoholic class. Britain is leading the charge here. They're doing a lot of distilled spirits that are very adult, very mature in flavor profile, and have no alcohol in them. So I'm excited to talk about that too. Thank you so much. You can reach me, You can subscribe to me on Instagram and YouTube. Tell your friends about me. I love talking about whiskey. I covered a lot of ground today. Thanks for sticking with us. And, you know, I'm sure that you have more questions. So please feel free to get in touch.

Valerie - Thank you, Blake, for being with us today, and for sharing all the things about whiskey, and I'm sure that our attendees enjoyed it as much as I did and learned a lot. To our attendees, we want to thank you for being with us today. And as a reminder, this session was recorded, and the recording will be available on our website next week. As a thank you for attending, The San Francisco Wine Trading Company is offering a 15% discount on all whiskeys available in stock. Additionally, as Blake mentioned, he's offering $5 off of the Zero de Mayo Non-Alcoholic Cocktail event, Wednesday, May the 5th at four o'clock Pacific time. We will be sending a follow-up email tomorrow with the discount information, and the link to register to the cocktail event and the list of whiskies featured in today's webinar. And we would ask that you visit our website, for a schedule of our upcoming webinars. Thank you, Blake, and thank you to everybody in the audience, and happy drinking.

Blake - Thank you, First Republic. Thank you very much. Thanks everyone for coming.

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