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WH WO

Whiskey

Whiskey is a spirit, aged in wood, obtained from the distillation of a fermented mash of grain. Whiskey is produced in four countries: the United States, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. The whiskeys produced in Canada, Ireland, and Scotland take on the name of their countries. Whiskeys produced in other countries, even though they may taste similar, cannot legally be called Canadian, Irish, or Scotch.

Whiskeys vary in alcoholic strength, from 110 proof American bottled in bond whiskey, to 70 proof Canadian whiskeys, sold only in Canada. Most whiskeys sold in the United States are either 86 or 80 proof, depending on the distiller and brand. Prior to the 1960s, most whiskeys were bottled at a higher proof. Today, modern drinkers prefer lighter-tasting whiskeys. Federal law requires that the label on each bottle be plainly marked with the proof of the liquor. Proof indicates the amount of alcohol in any distillate, and represents 50 percent alcohol by volume. The term "proof" came out of the pioneering era of distillation. In the beginning, to determine the strength of liquors, distillers would mix equal quantities of the spirit and gunpowder and then apply a flame to the mixture. If the gunpowder failed to burn, the spirit was too weak; if it burned too brightly, it was too strong. However, if it burned evenly, with a blue flame, it was said to have been proved. Hence the word proof. Pure alcohol, like the kind used in laboratories, is 200 proof, being 100 percent alcohol. A combination of half alcohol and half water is scored as 100 proof or 50 percent alcohol. Proof is a measure of alcoholic strength, not necessarily of quality.

Last modified: 7 September 2009
Editors: Nik D
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