A Syndicated Column By Bobby Fitzgerald

Is Whiskey the next Vodka?

While there is nothing new about whiskey, innovative styles and a wider selection has led this spirit to account for 29% of all spirit sales currently in the United States. As for a brief history, the distillation of whiskey began in Asia around 800 B.C. and eventually travelled over to Europe by ways of the Moors. The word whiskey was derived from the Gaelic word 'uisge'.

Whiskey is composed of a variety of grains, typically rye, barley, wheat and corn. Combined with an assortment of distilling processes, these grains create a gentle sipping spirit that often features smoky aromas. Through the United States, various locales put their own twist on these ingredients to create distinctly different tasting whiskeys. While there is a certain amount of room for inventiveness, there are distillery laws in place that regulate the ratios of how much of each grain is required to meet labeling standards.

American bourbon whiskey, which includes both Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon, is made from at least 51 percent corn. The difference in the names is a reflection of the filtering process. Rye whiskey is another variation of American whiskey but features rye as the primary grain instead of corn.

Internationally, there is Canadian whisky, which is a fairly balanced combination of corn, rye and barley, which is often why this is spirit is referred to as a blended whisky. In Scotland, barley is the main grain in the whisky, which is more often referred to as scotch. During the distiller process, the whisky has smoldering peat hung over it, which provides a smoky flavor. The Irish also use barley in their whisky but instead of peat, they dry their barley over a smokeless anthracite coal, making it a smoother, less smoky spirit.

No matter what area the whiskey comes from, this spirit is known for having bold, big and robust characteristics. Recently, whiskey has overtaken vodka in popularity. Due to this growth, restaurants are beginning to offer whiskey lists alongside their lists of vodkas, tequilas and wines.

Connected to this increase in demand, distilleries have become more imaginative in their creations. Innovative styles of whiskey that have hit the market in recent years include Jack Daniel's honey-flavored whiskey. This Tennessee whiskey has been described as "dangerously delicious" and makes the near perfect summer beverage with its naturally bold flavor and subtle sweetness. Another American based company following along with Jack Daniels is Jim Beam who has their Red Stag Black Cherry Kentucky Whiskey. This concoction features four-year-old Jim Beam bourbon complemented with hints of natural black cherry flavoring. The taste is balanced with a smooth and slightly sweet finish that provides that expected bourbon warmth. The Sazerac Company has also entered the inventive whiskey market. The Royal Canadian whisky is sweet and smoky and referred to as a Memphis barbeque with velvet smooth notes but huge flavors, particularly a spicy yet citrus finish. Another Sazerac single barrel Canadian whisky is the Caribou Crossing, which is finished in an oak barrel, which provides a strong orangey note, and a spicy yet still creamy finish.