I can practically hear Iain now: "If you're gonna be drinkin' it, you better know what it is!" (Imagine the comically enchanting Scottish accent in your head.)
Maybe it's best not to know what you're drinking sometimes...I mean, how much do you want to think about what milk actually is? But when it comes to whisky, you do want to know! When you're handed a mysterious liquid that you can set on fire*, you might have a wee question or two.
Unless you're an adventurous sort. In which case, hit me up. We should definitely drink together...
Anyway, whisky is mostly just two things: some kind of grain and water. Seriously, that's it. There's yeast too. It mixes with the water and grain to start the fermenting process, but ignore that. The yeast is part of whisky like the parsley garnish is part of a steak dinner. Technically, sure, parsley, you're in there, but please get out of steak and baked potato's light.
Scotch is the term for Scotch Whisky, which basically is just whisky made in Scotland and it's mostly made from barley. Bourbon is another kind of whisky, mostly made from corn. And there are others and there are blends and they all create a rainbow of whisky flavors. Kinda like the range of Chex cereal varieties.
Whisky also needs one more ingredient, he said suddenly becoming non-literal about this whole thing:
Whisky has to sit in barrels. The barrels are different, kinda like Chex cereal. Actually, not like Chex cereal at all. I don't know what made me think Chex was going to be some kind of perfect metaphor for everything.
It's more like if you've ever had a metal canteen full of water and by the end of the day, your water tastes like canteen. Except in this case, in a good way. The different woods that the barrels are made of and, you're going to like this, what USED TO BE in the barrel makes the flavor different.
That and how much time it spends in the barrel.
So what's whisky?
*Some grain or grains
*Yeast (happy, yeast?)
*Time in a barrel
And that it's, pretty much. The whole Flavor Rainbow of Whisky comes from those!
We'll continue the Stuff You Should Know about Whisky series in posts to come! You're good for now.
*This article covers "why you should set drinks on fire." I appreciate the spirit of this, though I also think that the question pretty much answers itself. Fire good.