In this article:
- Scotland, Ireland, the USA, and Canada are the leading producers of whiskey in the world. Scotland is famous for its own brand of whiskey known as scotch.
- Bourbon is another popular type of whiskey that hails from the state of Kentucky in America.
- The roots of whiskey can be traced back to the Celtic regions of Scotland and Ireland, with both these countries claiming provenance of the drink.
- Whiskey is 40% alcohol, which qualifies it as hard liquor. It is made from fermented grain mash and is stored in wooden casks. Different whiskeys are made, stored, and distilled differently.
- For a whiskey to yield any health benefit, it should be consumed in moderation and with the necessary precaution.
Whiskey is an alcoholic beverage that is obtained through grain distillation. This spirit derives its name from the Gaelic term “uisge beatha” or “usquebaugh,” which can be translated as “water of life.”
The Celtic roots of this name can be traced back to the Highlands of Scotland, and incidentally, the first written record of whiskey also belongs to the same place, dating as far back as 1494.
However, if the Irish are to be believed, the origin of the drink predates its documentation and was first introduced to Ireland by Christian monks before it reached Scotland.
Scotland may or may not have invented whiskey. Still, it has taken over all its contemporaries in the production of quality whiskey after having perfected the technique of distillation over the years.
Other leading producers include Ireland, Canada, and America, each with its own unique brand of whiskey.
How are the various types of whiskey different from each other?
The multiple varieties of whiskey hailing from different geographical locations tend to come with their specific character, name, taste, and ingredients.
Even the term whiskey is spelled differently in different places: what is “whiskey” in America and Ireland is written as “whisky” in Scotland and Canada.
Scotland is known for producing a specific type of whiskey called scotch, which is distilled from malted barley.
America is known for yet another variety of whiskey called bourbon, which is distilled from corn. Other than bourbon, some other popular types of American whiskey include:
- Corn whiskey
- Rye whiskey
- Malt whiskey
- Wheat whiskey
- Tennessee whiskey
- Rye malt whiskey
Both Scottish and American whiskeys go through a double round of distillation, whereas Irish whiskey is distilled thrice to produce the final product. The more distilled the product, the lighter and smoother is its flavor.
Aging the whiskey also helps mellow its taste. Whiskey is traditionally stored or aged in barrels, and the wood interacts with the distilled liquid inside to impart it an appetizing flavor.
Besides the aging process, the taste of whiskey will naturally depend on the grain or combination of grains used to make it.
The production process involves steeping the grains and then adding yeast to the mix. The yeast acts as a fermenting agent that breaks down the sugars in the grains to release alcohol as a by-product.
The liquid alcohol is then separated from the grain mash through various distillation processes depending upon the type of whiskey to be produced.
Grains with a high sugar content naturally produce sweeter-tasting whiskey than those that run low on sugar. For instance, the whiskey made from corn is sweeter than wheat or rye whiskey because of its superior sugar content.
What is the nutrient content of whiskey?
Whiskey is extremely low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and it also has a negligible level of carbohydrates. It has 70 calories in 100 ml, which are primarily from alcohol.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of distilled whiskey contains the following: (1)
|Carbohydrate, by difference||0.1||g|
|Sugars, total including NLEA||0.1||g|
What are the health benefits of drinking whiskey?
Whiskey is a pleasurable treat for many, but there might be more to it than its intoxicating effects. There is a lot of buzz about the health merits of drinking whiskey, but not enough research to substantiate these claims.
Moreover, the potential benefits of drinking alcohol should not compel non-drinkers to start drinking or license drinkers to start over indulging.
For any food or beverage to yield positive results, it should be consumed in appropriate amounts as part of an overall healthy diet.
The principle of moderation especially applies to alcohol as excessive intake, can severely harm your body and your social well-being. In proper amounts, whiskey is believed to offer the following benefits:
1. May help protect against cognitive disorders
The antioxidative properties of red wine are much-touted, but those of whiskey remains largely unexplored or sidelined.
All types of alcoholic beverages, including whiskey, have been shown to contain antioxidant properties. (2)
Antioxidants can help curb oxidative stress in the body by countering the activity of free radicals. Free radicals are essentially unstable molecules that wreak havoc on healthy cells and consequently cause various ailments.
The phytochemicals from whiskey and other dietary sources may help reduce cognitive dysfunction and delay the onset/progress of many neuropsychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative disorders.
These phytochemicals work by influencing the function of GABA receptors to maintain the chemical balance in one’s brain.
They can help protect against the debilitating repercussions of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia, etc. (3)
The antioxidant virtues of whiskey can only yield the desired results so long as it is consumed in light to moderate amounts. Unchecked or excessive alcohol intake can cause many negative health outcomes.
That said, you must bear in mind that the beneficial effects of whiskey on cognitive functioning are backed by limited research and require further broad-based investigation to be established conclusively.
The importance of drinking patterns and specific beverages remain unknown. Given the unsubstantial evidence, abstainers are strictly advised against using alcohol to fight dementia or other such problems. (4)
2. May decrease risk of heart disease
Alcohol can be good and bad for your heart health, which largely depends on how much you drink on a regular basis.
The alcoholic content of whiskey or other alcoholic drinks may reduce your cardiovascular disease risk, provided that you do not go overboard with the intake, which has the opposite effect.
Ideally, men should consume no more than 1-2 drinks a day, whereas women should have no more than a single drink per day.
People who engage in light to moderate drinking tend to have a lower risk of congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and total mortality.
However, there is no direct study to link the two. Conversely, people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are more prone to cardiovascular problems. (5)
3. May help control urate levels
High uric acid levels are responsible for painful conditions such as gout, wherein the excess uric acid crystallizes and accumulates in the joints.
Some clinical studies suggest that light to moderate whiskey consumption can promote the excretion of urate through the urine, thereby decreasing the serum urate levels in the body. The exact mechanism behind this effect, however, remains unknown. (6)
Some other benefits are associated with whiskey, including weight loss or digestion aid. However, these claims are not supported by research.
What is moderate alcohol intake? What’s a drink?
Moderation is key when it comes to any potential health benefits of whiskey. However, the ambiguity around this term has sparked a lot of confusion and controversy about the risks associated with alcohol intake.
In simple terms, moderate drinking refers to that balanced level of alcoholic intake at which the advantages outweigh the risks.
According to the US Department of Agriculture and the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men should not consume more than 1-2 drinks a day, whereas women should stick to only a single drink a day. (10)
What constitutes as one drink varies depending upon the choice of alcohol since some are stronger than others.
In the American context, one drink usually amounts to 12 ounces of beer and 5 ounces of wine, but only 1½ ounces of whiskey, which is a hard liquor and therefore should be consumed more judiciously. (7)
What is hot toddy? Does it help in the common cold?
The hot toddy is an anecdotal concoction that is mostly used for relieving the symptoms of the common cold and flu. Typically, a hot toddy is prepared by mixing lemon, honey, and hot water with whiskey.
You can also use green or black tea instead of whiskey if you wish to keep it non-alcoholic.
All the ingredients of this tonic except for whiskey have been credited with some degree of scientific merit for providing nutrients that may help the immune system fight off a common cold.
So, there is no knowing whether whiskey has anything to do with the therapeutic effects of hot toddy or if it is the other ingredients that may provide benefit.
What is excessive drinking?
Binge drinking or heavy drinking refers to having several drinks in a single session. If a man consumes five or more drinks in one sitting or about 2 hours, it qualifies as binge drinking.
The same is true for women who consume four or more drinks during this time frame.
Unlike alcoholism, which involves sustained heavy drinking on a long-term basis, binge drinking can be an isolated or occasional occurrence.
Other forms of alcohol abuse include:
- Heavy drinking, which essentially means drinking copious amounts of alcohol regularly
- Any drinking by pregnant women
- Any kind of alcohol intake by people younger than 21 years of age
What happens if you drink too much whiskey?
Unchecked alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse not only hampers your overall physical and mental health but can also pose an immediate risk to your own safety as well as the safety of others around you by dulling your senses.
Excessive drinking has been associated with motor vehicle accidents, violence, and sexual risk behaviors.
Moreover, it can lead to many long-term health problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension), inflammation of the liver (alcoholic hepatitis), and scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis).
Heavy drinkers are also more likely to develop cardiomyopathy, which is caused by damage to the heart muscles. (8)
The more you drink the greater will be the risk of these harms. Alcohol can also help with pain management when taken in moderate amounts, but you should not become dependent on it.
The pain-inhibitory effects of alcohol can easily tempt you to increase your consumption. Such action not only cancels out the positive pain-related outcomes but also triggers more complications in the long run. (9)
Who should not consume alcohol at all?
The following people should steer clear of any kind of alcohol:
- People below the age of 21
- Women who are pregnant or may be pregnant
- People who are driving or planning to drive
- People who are participating in an activity that requires skill, coordination, and alertness
- People who are recovering from alcoholism
- People with little self-control
- People who are taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
- People with certain medical conditions
It is generally not recommended to start drinking alcohol if you are not already.
Whiskey is, first and foremost, an alcoholic beverage and should be treated as such. It is an intoxicant that should be consumed judiciously and responsibly.
The health claims associated with alcohol do not give you a free pass for mindless drinking. In fact, the only way to optimize its therapeutic value is to drink it in moderation.
There is limited research with health benefits specific to whiskey, and more studies are needed. You should be aware of both the risks and benefits associated with alcohol consumption and stay within the stipulated limit to avoid any undue complications.