Whiskey Time Traveler

Whiskey Time Traveler, Chapter 2, Part 1: Unlocking The Time Traveling Secret


This week we bring you another installment from the Whiskey Time Traveler. If you missed the Introduction or Chapter 1 then you should definitely check them out before reading Chapter 2. Enjoy and happy travels!

— Zac Smith


Part 1

Without memory, time travel is impossible.  Without time travel, we lose the ability to effectively tell our story.  Everything we want to tell others has already happened (the past) or will happen (the future).  We must travel to those times mentally before we can recall the details of the event.  If we had no short-term memory at all, we wouldn’t be able to retell an event that was unfolding before our eyes.  It would get lost between our seeing it and our forming the thoughts and words to replay it back.  Memory is the key!

How can we improve our memory, specifically in the area of recalling whiskies that we have enjoyed?  The more you learn about a particular topic, like whisky, the easier it becomes to learn new things about that topic because we have additional anchors to attach new ideas to.  In fact, studies have shown that the more you know about a subject, the more it may actually help with memory in relation to that subject.  That makes sense. We develop connections in our mind and, as it turns out, the more strings there are hanging from a single object or idea, the better the odds of us actually grabbing hold of a string when we are trying to pull that thought back into our minds.

So, to facilitate the type of time traveling we’ll be doing, it will be easier if we know at least the basics about whisky.  As we progress, we will introduce information about whisky to serve as foundation material for you to build on.  Please bear with me if I get a little too simplistic for some of you, I want all of us to be on the same page as we progress through our time traveling adventures.

First, a simple definition of what whisky is:  Whisky is any brown or golden colored spirit that is distilled from a grain.  That’s it!  (Before you call me on the carpet, please see the footnote)*

Every spirit that comes off of a still is clear, without color.  The only thing that gives whisky its color is wood.  So if it sits in a wood barrel or has wood pieces soaking in it, it will start to turn yellow, then golden, and move onto a darker and darker brown as time goes by.  There is only one way to cheat the process and that is by adding caramel coloring.  Even if caramel coloring has been added the whisky will still have been aged in wood for at least some time.

So, if a distilled spirit has color does that mean that it is a whisky?  No, remember, it also must be distilled from a grain, and any grain will do.  So, Rum that has color is not whisky because it is distilled from sugar cane and not a grain.  Some Tequilas are aged in wood barrels and have a brown color to them, however they also are not whisky since Tequila is distilled from agave.  Whisky, no matter where it comes from, must be distilled from a grain (and yes, technically corn is a very large grain).

So, is any spirit distilled from a grain considered a whisky?  No, if it hasn’t come into contact with wood long enough for it to at least be golden colored then it hasn’t been aged long enough to be considered a whisky (corn whisky excepted). *  Also if the distilled spirit has been produced from a grain at or above 190 proof, it falls under a different classification, “neutral spirits” or “alcohol”.

I don’t want you to try to remember too much at one time.  Right now, I just want you to know that whisky is any golden-brown spirit distilled from a grain…simple.

Now, back to developing our memory.

The way our memory works can be broken down into three parts, sometimes referred to as the “Three R’s of Remembering”.  First, we have “Recording” or information acquisition.  Second, we have “Retaining” or storage.  Third, we have “Retrieving” or the bringing back from storage.

Most of our problems with remembering details happen at the retrieval stage.  We have recorded it.  We were there and experienced the details of the event.  Someone may have told us the name of the whisky and what type of whisky it is, so we have definitely recorded the event and it’s in the storage system somewhere.  We just have a problem retrieving the details of what has already been experienced.  The bad news is that there is not much we can do to improve retrieval directly, however, retrieval is so closely related to how the material is recorded and retained, that improved methods of recording and retaining will improve retrieval.

From here on, we will focus on recording and retaining information relating to whisky because that’s what I enjoy, but remember, you can adapt these same methods to any other types of spirits, beers, wines, or anything else that you want to tell stories about.

— S. Garth Smith

*I wanted to start out with a very simple definition of whisky but like so many other things, there is at least one exception to this rule- Corn Whisky.  According to the federal rules in the U.S. a distilled spirit can be called a whisky even if it hasn’t touched a single piece of oak and is as clear as water as long as it is at least 80% corn and it must be labeled “Corn Whisky”.  Corn Whisky can also be stored in used oak containers as well as new, uncharred, oak but not new charred oak, because it would then be classified as Bourbon.