Whiskey (American and Irish spelling) or whisky (Scottish, Canadian and Japanese spelling) is a grain spirit usually aged in wood. The big four grains are wheat, corn, rye and barley, each of which imparts a unique taste to the final spirit. Not only is whiskey a key ingredient in a slew of classic cocktails, but its wide range of flavors (rye’s spice, Scotch’s smoke, bourbon’s sweetness) allows for both subtle and drastic variations on cocktails by merely switching out the base whiskey. As an ingredient, whiskey’s use is nearly limitless. Many favorite spirit-forward, stirred drinks rely on the frame provided by whiskey’s rich body, malty spice and boozy structure -- e.g., the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac. It’s also the base for one of the most beloved and reinvented citrus cocktails in the world, the Whiskey Sour. Plus you can split it with another spirit -- rum, mezcal or brandy, to name a few -- to create a complex foundation for a new recipe or reimagined classic. All that and it’s one of the best spirits to enjoy neat too. Produced in some form since 1494, whiskey branched out both in style and usage in colonial America where it really took off. It was here that immigrants used skills honed in the old world and went to work with what was available in the new (to them) world -- namely, grain. Bourbon and rye whiskeys were created, honed, and ultimately legally defined. Canadian whisky quietly grew to the north (never one to toot their own horn, the Canadians). Then Japan created its own commercial whisky in the early 1900s styled after Scotch. Global whiskey production continues to grow today as do the creative ways bartenders are employing it in cocktails. P.S. Don’t get too hung up on the semantics of whiskey versus whisky. No one can hear the hidden 'e', and whiskey drinkers tend to be a forgiving bunch once they have a glass in front of them.
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