SO WHAT IS WHISKEY?
Whiskey is made from grain. This is what distinguishes it from other distilled beverages like brandy, which is made from grapes, and calvados, which is made from apples.
Simply speaking, whiskey is nothing more than distilled beer. Like beer, malted barley and other grains are the source of the sugars necessary for fermentation. The sugars in the grain are released by steeping it in hot water. This sweet liquid, known as “wort”, is cooled down. Yeast is added and converts the sugars to alcohol, creating beer.
The major difference between the “beer” that whiskey-makers produce (often called “wash”) and the beer that brewers create is that the brewers also add hops to their beer. Hops, the flowering cones of a climbing plant, are bitter and help balance a beer’s sweetness. They also act as a preservative to stabilize the beer’s flavor. Distiller’s beer doesn’t need hops. Oak aging balances the whiskey’s flavors, and distilling increases the alcohol level, which preserves the whiskey.
To make whiskey from beer, it must be distilled. Distilling captures and concentrates the beer’s more volatile components, which include alcohol. The distillers use either continuously-operating column stills (as with most bourbons) or copper pot stills (as with single malt scotch), one batch at a time. This spirit is then aged in oak barrels, where it matures and becomes whiskey. The types of grain used, the distillation method, and the casks chosen for aging are what make each whiskey taste different.
What is Sake?
The word sake in Japanese can refer to any alcoholic beverage, but in general, it is used in English to mean a specific type of rice alcohol, also known as Nihonshu. Sake is sometimes called rice wine, but in truth, it is not a wine, nor is it exactly a beer, nor a spirit. Sake is a rather unique type of fermented alcohol.
To begin the fermentation process, sake is milled down until mostly only starch remains. At this point, the starch is fermented to turn into sugar, then further fermented so that the sugars transform into alcohol. This is somewhat similar to the production of beer, but unlike beer brewing, the starch breakdown in sake is not caused by enzymes from the malt, but rather from a special mold.
After fermentation, sake is naturally cloudy from bits of particulate left from the grains. Some sake, such as nigori, is allowed to remain clouded, but the majority is filtered so that it is clear like a spirit. Sake is best enjoyed while fresh, so unlike wine and more like beer, sake is rarely aged. Sake is fairly high in alcohol for a fermented drink, ranging from 14% to 16% alcohol – as compared to 8% to 14% for most wines, or 4% to 6% for most beers. When produced, sake usually contains around 20% alcohol, but most producers add water to dilute the sake to a more palatable 15%.