Lessons in Liquor: Our New Bar Manager Harry talks Bourbon and Whiskey

As you know, Riddles are the makers of Altrincham’s best Old Fashioned, so it’s no surprise how excited we are to have a new manager with a passion for bourbon and whiskey. Taste is the most important thing, sweeter or peatier – but what makes whiskies taste different? Harry is on hand to answer all of your questions.

In the past few weeks, Riddles staff team have been treated to some of Harry’s expert knowledge in bourbon and whiskey training sessions – lucky us! Let’s get something straight before we begin, ‘whiskey’ or ‘whisky’, the spelling doesn’t make a difference…
First was bourbon and we learnt the rules that must be followed when making this delicious spirit. It must be made in America from at least 50% corn, aged for a minimum of 3 months in virgin oak barrels and be distilled at no higher than 94.9%. This may all seem confusing (as it did to me!), but I’ll decipher what it means. The taste of bourbon differs depending on the barrel age or what is known as the mash bill. The mash bill is the percentage of corn, wheat, rye or malted barley that is used in the fermentation and distillation process. Corn gives a caramel toffee flavour, whereas wheat makes a bourbon smooth and creamy and malted barley gives an earthy richness. Your bourbons with more corn will be sweeter, and more wheat will have a softer mouth feel. Therefore, the percentage of these different grains changes the flavour, depending on how much is added. Still with me? Brilliant. Now the other flavour factor is the length of time the bourbon is aged for. Virgin barrels are used, meaning no other spirit has been aged in the wood. The longer in the barrel, the more flavour characteristics the bourbon will pick up.
Scotch whiskey is a different deal altogether. The rules for this one is that it must be made in Scotland, aged for at least 3 years and one day in pre-used barrels, and be bottled at no lower than 40%. By using pre-used barrels, scotch is given another depth of flavour. The barrels can have been used for anything, the aging of port, sherry, whiskey and even plum liqueur! This is why whiskey tends to differ in colour, depending on what barrels they have been aged in, whereas bourbons tend to be similar because of the virgin oak.
Japanese whiskey, funnily enough, is Scotch that has been made in Japan. It is made in exactly the same way but tastes different, why is that? Well Japanese water and the oak used for barrels is different to Scottish so brings a different flavour to the whiskey. For example, Hakashu has a distinctive floral smell with a smoky taste. The same goes for ‘new world’ whiskey including Swedish brand Mackmyra. The oak from the country gives a different flavour profile – interesting right!?
If it’s bourbon or whiskey you’re after – or even if you’re not – ask the Riddles bartenders for advice, they’re all experts now!
Harry will be doing short videos on bourbons and whiskies of the month – stay tuned for even more knowledge.
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