Whiskey: What is it?

What is Whiskey? As defined by our friends at the TTB, it is a spirit distilled from fermented mash of grain at less than 95% ABV have the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% ABV. While there are only 2 types of Vodka, there are no fewer than 41 different types of spirits under the category Whiskey. Have a look at Chapter 4 of the Mandatory Label Information if you’d like to check them all out.

The Break Down

We discussed in the last article what creates alcohol, or rather who. Yeast are a living organism, so we’ll use correct pronouns. So we know we need sugar and we know we can get it from several different sources. Vodka is essentially the distillation of alcohol made from almost any material at a very high proof. The nuances of making spirits get interesting the further you get into Chapter 4. Whiskey has more classifications, and spellings, than any other spirit. The craft and art of spirits are in the details of making dark spirits. Whiskey carries with it a mystique and prestige, which takes care and practice to create; and a lifetime to perfect.

There are several different types of Whiskey, for now we will focus on my favorites, Bourbon, Rye, Corn and Straight. Here is an over simplification: 100% Corn Whiskey is the most basic form of whiskey, although to be labeled ‘Corn Whiskey’ the mash only needs to be 80% corn by weight. Mash corn, add yeast, distill twice and add to a barrel until it doesn’t taste bad. Bourbon must have a grain bill of at least 51% corn, and be aged in a new charred oak barrel; but it follows the other principles of whiskey. It needs distilled twice and aged in a barrel until it tastes good. Rye is the inverse of Bourbon; the grain bill must be at least 51% Rye. The ‘Straight’ in Straight Bourbon means that it has been aged for a minimum of 2 years. There are many variations as well. A Rye High Bourbon is just what it sounds like; a Bourbon with a high percentage of Rye in the grain bill, but no more than 49%.


We’ve established we need corn, rye and wheat, but why those grains? The short answer is because it’s what we have on hand in the Great Plains. Grains are the backbone of all whiskeys. Rye has a nice sharp bite to it. And wheat will increase the ABV and add a bit of an earthy tone to the finished product making it great in cocktails. Corn is the backbone of any great American Whiskey. It is smooth, oily, and a little sweet. It’s also grown in almost every state making it cheap and available. A spirit high in corn will be a little bit more smooth and sweet than others.

Making a whiskey mash is technically making a beer. The major difference being, distillers want the highest ABV possible, and our beer can taste terrible and still give us a great product. You can usually find the grain bill of your favorite Whiskey online.

What we do at Edwin Coe.

At Edwin Coe, we use a family recipe that originated in 1928. My great father, Joseph Edwin Dupuis (known as Old Coe) decided digging ditches was a waste of time and started making Bourbon Whiskey.

He spent the next 74 years perfecting his recipe and process. We took his recipe, notes from his apprentice and a lot of hard work to do our damn best to continue his legacy and create the best Bourbon Whiskey ever put in a bottle.

If you are new to Whiskey take it slow. Add a bit of cool, clean water and a few ice cubes to your pour. The water will help the flavor and aroma emerge, and the ice will help cut the sharp bite that many people associate with Whiskey. Soon, on our website, you will be able to find many recipes for all types of spirits including Whiskey. But in the end, enjoy it however you damn well please. We make spirits to help you unwind, relax with friends and loved ones, and maybe open to a few new experiences.

– Joe Collins, Founder

Upcoming Articles:

  • Who the hell is Edwin Coe?
  • What is in Whiskey (bourbon, scotch, rye, straight etc), Rum, Gin, and Brandy?
  • So what is the difference between top shelf and bottom shelf, is the price justified?
  • What is a hangover and how do I avoid/cure it?
  • What does the label tell me about the spirit inside, other than the obvious?
  • How does distillation work?
  • What is moonshine really?
  • Summary of the article about Grandpa Dupuis.
  • What happens in barrel as a spirits ages? What flavors does it add? Why age it for so long when the color comes on right way?
  • Why charred oak barrels?

Joe C.

Written by Joe C.

Joe is the founder of Edwin Coe Spirits.