The Prohibition Era left a gap in America’s knowledge of whiskey, leading to a slew of myths and misconceptions.
Whiskey and spirits enthusiast Noah Rothbaum debunks some of these myths in his new book, “The Art of American Whiskey,” which uses 100 vintage and modern labels to help tell the story of whiskey in America.
Here, he clears up a few lingering myths that won’t seem to go away.
Myth No. 1: The older the whiskey, the better.
“We’ve been trained in America to think that older is better and a marker of quality. But in fact, there’s a finite number of years that you can age whiskey, otherwise you get too much wood from the barrel and they wind up tasting too woody.
There are a number of very fine, extra old American whiskeys on the market that are 18, 20 years old, but those are really big exceptions. There are many excellent whiskeys that are far younger than 20 years old.”
Myth No. 2: All bourbons have to come from Kentucky.
“By law, bourbon has to be made in America — it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky. We’ve seen people from New York, California, and everywhere in between making bourbon. The majority of bourbon is still made in Kentucky because the biggest companies are there, but it doesn’t have to be made there — it just has to be made inside the U.S.
Just as Champagne can only be made in Champagne or Cognac can only be made in Cognac, bourbon can only be made in America.”
Myth No. 3: Expensive whiskey trumps the cheap stuff
“There are a lot of excellent American whiskeys that don’t break the bank that you can find for $US25. One of the best rye whiskeys is Rittenhouse Rye, which sells for about $US25 — far less than a lot of other rye whiskeys on the market.”
Myth No. 4: Whiskey is a man’s drink
“For so long that was such a prevailing idea, but it’s obviously ridiculous … There’s nothing that should stop a woman from drinking whiskey. In fact, according to science, women are better tasters of flavour, so they actually have a better palate than men do. So if anybody should be appreciating a rich spirit … it should be women.”
Myth No. 5: Making cocktails with good whiskey is a waste
“If you’re making a cocktail, you want to use the best ingredients that you have. You may not want to use your absolute rarest, best whiskey in a cocktail, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the spirit. Great whiskeys will make great cocktails.
Some of the whiskeys that people prize are ones that are high proof and have bigger flavours, which work perfectly in cocktails because they stand up to other mixers. [And] even with the dilution from the ice … they’re able to still have a lot of flavour.”
Myth No. 6: Whiskey should only be sipped in the winter
“You can drink it year-round, even in the heart of summer. Whether you’re mixing it with club soda or ginger ale — on the rocks is very delicious — a squeeze of lime juice sometimes helps. It’s a very refreshing drink when it’s hot and humid outside.”
Myth No. 7: Never add anything to whiskey
“A lot of people are worried about adding water or ice. But adding a little water actually opens up the whiskey to release more flavours and aromas.
If it’s hot out and the whiskey is a big whiskey and high proof [90+], definitely feel free to add ice — and the bigger the ice cube, the better.
I think you should definitely feel free to experiment a little bit; whiskey is not that delicate. There are some very rare or exceptional whiskeys that you’re not going to want to add ice or water to, but most whiskeys on the shelf may taste good with ice, or water, or club soda if that’s what you like.”
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