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Whiskey, The Gentleman’s Dram

I am going to preface this article with a brief disclaimer: Have you seen the little tagline on the beer commercials that says “Please Enjoy Responsibly”?

Those are there for a reason, and those warnings need to be heeded. When enjoying a spirit such as whiskey, always use good judgment and know your limits. That being said, I love a good whiskey, and it has been the preferred spirit for several gents throughout history. Whiskey comes from a variety of places and is made using many different processes, but I’m going to break down some of the different kinds of whiskey available in the US today, the taste difference between them, and a couple of different ways to enjoy a fine whiskey.

One of the most popular whiskey types made in America today is Bourbon whiskey. According to law, a whiskey can only be called bourbon if it is produced in the United States, and the name bourbon comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky which is where some of the worlds best bourbon whiskey comes from. Bourbon is aged in new, charred oak barrels and often has a slightly sweet and smokey taste, and must be made from at least 51% corn. Some of the best known examples of Bourbon widely available in the US are Jim Beam and Evan Williams, which are available at low cost and are a quality product, but lack some of the smoothness and sophisticated flavors of higher end bourbons such as Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve, which are generally considered the best widely available Bourbons and can be found for anywhere from $30 to $40 a bottle.

Another popular form of whiskey is Irish Whiskey. Irish Whiskey, again by law, must be produced in Ireland and is required to age for a minimum of 3 years before it can be sold. Irish whiskey will usually be less sweet than Bourbon, but it will still have a sort of oak smokiness and a bit of a bitter flavor that usually finds favor with drinkers of dark beer. Probably the two best known brands of Irish Whiskey in the US are Bushmills and Jameson, both of which make an excellent cocktail as well as a straight whiskey drink, and they can both often be had for around $25 a bottle, which makes for a quality whiskey without breaking the bank.

The third and final type of whiskey most predominantly enjoyed in the US is Scotch whiskey, but I am going to choose to cover Scotch at another point in time due to the multitude of different factors that go into making Scotch, and given the complexity of flavors and aging processes found in good Scotch, I feel that it deserves its own segment, but needless to say, there are several good scotches available in the US, and if you want a good idea as to what a good scotch tastes like, brands like Dewars and Johnny Walker are widely available in the United States and range anywhere from $20 to $30 a bottle depending on the quality and aging processes, and both offer a taste that is smooth on the palate but with hints of smokiness and offer a hint of the peat flavor that a lot of higher end Scotches have.  Again, we will go over Scotch in more detail at a later time.

So you have a bottle of fine Whiskey, maybe a nice Maker’s Mark or perhaps a Gentleman Jack, but what do you do, just pour it in a shot glass or swill it straight out of the bottle? Blasphemy! There are a couple of pointers to enjoying whiskey at its finest, and while they aren’t complicated, these simple steps go a long way to the enjoyment of a fine spirit.

A good whiskey should be served in a highball glass either “neat”, which is to say just the whiskey by itself, or for the gent who prefers his drink chilled, a couple of ice cubes are acceptable as well. Whiskey is to be sipped, never slurped or gulped, and should be enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully, ideally with a friend or group of friends. A nice glass of whiskey also compliments a medium to mild bodied cigar very well. And while Whiskey doesn’t usually lend itself too well to mixed drinks, there are a couple of things that you can do to shake things up a bit.

The first whiskey cocktail that is quite good is the old “Jack and Coke”, but really, you can replace the word “Jack” with any kind of whiskey as long as you mix it with dark soda such as Pepsi or Coca-Cola. I prefer my mix to be about half and half whiskey to soda, but you can adjust yours according to taste. Another great cocktail is the “Whiskey Sour”, which can be made with either sour mix that can be  found at your local liquor store or with any kind of slightly sour citrus soda such as Fresca or Squirt, and can even be made with Lemonade or Limeade. Take roughly two ounces of whiskey and combine it with four ounces of your preferred mix, serve over ice and enjoy.

There are other fine whiskeys that haven’t been mentioned because they don’t really fall into any of the above categories, such as the legendary Jack Daniels, which is a sour mash whiskey, and Southern Comfort, which isn’t really whiskey at all but is actually a liqueur with whiskey flavoring. Both are excellent products in their own right and should be enjoyed with the above tips in mind. However you like your whiskey, it is the true drink of a gentleman, a symbol of manly pursuits and the finer things in life, and there is always room for it in the cabinet of a discriminating gentleman.

Eric Jelinek
A scholarly well rounded bastard with four eyes, a taste for fine tobacco and truer principles to the phrase 'gentleman' than many shall know.