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When you truly love a spirit, it's important to know as much as possible about it, or at least be able to effectively BS about it. And no liquor has the ability to draw out quasi-experts more than whiskey. In an effort to help better your BS, we offer up this handy guide to the best-known forms of whiskey, arming you with the knowledge you need to pretend you know what you're talking about.
What it is: Kentucky's greatest contribution to mankind -- with respect to the Colonel -- came into our lives in the 18th century. It legally must consist of 51% corn and be aged in virgin barrels at least 2yrs, and hovers between 80 and 101 proof. It tastes like America.
Where it comes from: The Bluegrass State is the most genuine, though microdistillers all over the country are starting to make what they call bourbon, typically in barrels shipped from Kentucky just to trick you.
Great examples: Buffalo Trace, Maker's Marker, Bulleit, and Wild Turkey.
Distinguishing qualities: An oakiness from the barrel, and notes of vanilla.
Best cocktails: Get it in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. Or stop being a putz and just put ice in it.
What it is: Essentially, it's not all that different from bourbon. The main difference is that if you call it "bourbon", you will likely be shot by an angry country singer. Also, it's treated to something called the Lincoln County Process, which involves dripping it through charcoal.
Where it comes from: One of the scattershot counties in Tennessee that actually allows alcohol. Because Tennessee be CRAZY.
Great examples: Jack Daniel's and his classy brother, Gentleman Jack. And his yahoo cousin George Dickel.
Distinguishing qualities: A bit mellower than its Kentucky kin due to that charcoal action, and a little more sweetness under the bite; ability to make 4H chicks look way hotter.
Best cocktails: Whiskey sour. Also, Jack & Coke isn't just a clever name.
What it is: More rules! In order for rye to be rye, it needs rye. Go figure. The mash has to be more than half composed of rye, in fact. Otherwise, it's a lot like a drier version of bourbon. Also, rye.
Where it comes from: Generally, Kentucky, since a lot of your favorite bourbon distillers also dabble in rye. They also, interestingly, make it at George Washington's crib, Mt. Vernon, presumably to dull the pain of chewing with wooden teeth.
Great examples: Jim Beam and Van Winkle Family Reserve.
Distinguishing qualities: Rye slaps bourbon's relative sweetness in the face, offering up a rougher, stick-in-your-throatier flavor that's a lot spicier. Also, you don't get much more distinguished than being made by George Washington.
Best cocktails: Classics like Sazeracs and Manhattans are completely transformed if you sub rye for bourbon.