Pronunciation: [HWIHSK-ee; WIHSK-ee]
An alcoholic distillate obtained from a fermented mash of grains such as barley, rye or corn. The name comes from the Celtic (Gaelic) uisqebaugh (pronounced oos-kee-BAW or whis-kee-BAW), which means "water of life." Many factors influence a whiskey's quality and flavor including the type of grain and yeast used, the method of distillation, how it's aged and the water source. Straight whiskey must be made from at least 51 percent of a grain, must not exceed 160 proof (80 percent alcohol), must be aged in oak barrels for 2 years and may only be diluted with water to no less than 80 proof. Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey are all straight whiskeys. Blended whiskey is a combination of two or more 100-proof straight whiskeys blended with neutral spirits, grain spirits or light whiskeys. Light whiskey has been distilled to a higher-than-normal alcohol level (typically more than 160 proof) then diluted with water to a greater extent than usual. It gets its distinctive character from being stored in charred oak containers. Such whiskies are generally used for blending. Single-malt whiskey is made only from malted barley and from a single distillery. Such whiskeys are typically richer in flavor and usually more expensive than blended whiskey. There are myriad single-malt scotch whiskeys as well as some single-malt irish whiskeys available. The countries with the highest whiskey production are Canada, Ireland, Great Britain (Scotland) and the United States. Traditionally, whiskies made in Scotland and Canada are spelled whisky, sans the "e." See also canadian whisky; corn whiskey; hooch.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.