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Issue 7 - Past masters

Whisky Magazine Issue 7
December 1999


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Past masters

In the second part of their American whiskey odyssey, Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan uncover the traditional practices that makes each bottling unique.

American distillers employ many intricate techniques to make their whiskey unique (see Whisky Magazine Issue 6). But that is far from the end of the idiosyncracies – once a new spirit is made, many other devices come into play. Each builds on the initial differences so you end up with a galaxy of varying flavours among brands and bottlings.

It's not just the Irish and the Scots who have a whisk(e)y-making heritage that stretches back hundreds of years, the Americans have been distilling for more than two centuries. However making good whiskey has only been considered important within the last 200 years. For instance, although whiskey has always been stored in barrels, purposeful ageing for long periods of time wasn't widely practised anywhere before the mid- to late-1700s.

Add to that the fact that some of today's American whiskey-makers can boast of their great-great-great-grandfather starting the family business, and you start to comprehend how some of the apparently strange techniques are centuries' old traditions. Bourbons or Tennessee whiskeys are definitely no Johnny-come-latelys. They both have a rich heritage, and are made by people who are passionate about whiskey, which is why each distillery in Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Virginia, has its own unique style of distilling.

Ageing proof
By law, straight American whiskeys must be entered into the barrel for ageing at no more than 62.5 per cent abv. Although some whiskey-makers age their bourbons at exactly ...

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