Saturday, January 13, 2018

History 101: Whisky or Whiskey? What's the Difference Between Them All?

Personally, whiskey is my favorite spirit to sit back and enjoy.  A lot of folks enjoy beer, wine or other fine spirits, but whiskey has always been my favorite.  I enjoy a nice scotch or bourbon, and even like drinking the cheap ones.  My personal favorite is Gentleman Jack, which is an aged version of Jack Daniels.  And it is one of the most popular alcoholic beverage on the planet!  Heck, there have rebellions and military actions surrounding it!  (Google Whiskey Rebellion)  My obsession with whiskey started after I graduated from bartending school when I was in college.  I started working at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia tending bar, and part of the job at any fine bar is knowing what everything tastes like.  This allows you, the bartender, to make recommendations to customers when they ask, "which is better" or "I like THIS can you make me something like THAT?"  During this process, I discovered that I really enjoyed whiskey, and that it was pretty much every whiskey to some extent.  But, there are many different types of whiskeys out there, and for the average consumer this can be very confusing.  They order a Johnny Walker Red and do not understand why they don't like it, they drink Jack Daniels all the time.

Well, the industry does not make it easy to know or understand the difference.  And neither does history!  Let's just look at the WORD!  Is it whiskey or whisky?  And is there a difference?  Let's break it down.

First, a little history
Origins?  Well, no one really knows for sure.  The best guess is the drink we know as whiskey today originates from somewhere in Asia around 800 BC.  It is thought the Chinese began distilling liquor from rice in a similar manner to the way whiskey is distilled today, and that traveled to the British Isles.  Remember, Great Britain controlled much of the world for a very long time.  And part of the United Kingdom was Ireland.  There is evidence that the Moors helped bring the idea to the British Isles  Taking that into account, the most commonly held historically explanation is the Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland (and apparently whiskey), brought the knowledge to Ireland with him as a Christian Missionary in 432 AD.  The Celts thought this was somekind of awesome and took this as their own drink they referred to as Uisage Beathe (water of life).  The word whisky is etymologically derivative of uisage, meaning that this is the origin of the word.  The first written records of this stem from the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland that show a purchased of "eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.:  For those weak in Latin, that's Latin for "water of life."

Over time, this knowledge spread and by the early 18th century the recipe and distillation method was refined to make a drink that was more palatable, but still raw and hard to the taste in comparison to the drink we know today.  However, it was so popular that the grains were being grown all over the world by this time.  It wasn't until the 18th century that the idea of aging whiskey became prevalent when a merchant in Ireland happened upon an old cask of whiskey.  He sampled it to see if it was still good to sell, and to his amazement realized it was infinitely better than the stuff that he was selling at the time.

During the 18th century, governments began to realize that whiskey was very popular, and a tax upon this drink could generate a lot of money for the government coffers.  Scotland and England passed a tax in 1725, which existed in more or less the same form as an Excise Tax into the 19th century.  This led to different experimentation to try and skirt the tax, which was too specific in what it taxed.  The thought was by changing the formula, the tax could be avoided.  Aeneas Coffey first blended whiskeys from different areas together to produce a different, blended whiskey. This did work, and legitimate distilleries began shutting their doors because of the tax.  It wasn't until 1852 that blended whiskeys caught on, and became popular thanks to Andre Usher's new blend that made both the Irish and Scottish happy.  While there are many "single malt" varieties out there, most low-cost whiskeys are blended, today.

The word: whisky or whiskey?  Well, the word depends more on the origin and time more than anything else.  There really is no difference in the product, today, other than origin... sort of.  Historically speaking, Scotch (or whiskey from Scotland) was spelled whisky, and whiskey from Ireland was spelled whiskey.  And that was really simply a difference in the language more than anything else.  And since the Irish are credited with bringing whiskey to the United States, all whiskey that originates in the United States would have an 'e' in it  So, if you are being technical: whisky comes from Scotland, and whiskey comes from everywhere else.  That does not, necessarily, mean that American Whiskey is only Irish in origin.  Very much like everything else in America, it is a melting pot of methods, recipes and flavors.  But, if you want to be picky it can be said the Kentucky Bourbons tend to be closer to Scotch, and Tennessee Whiskey tends to be more like Irish Whiskey -- but please remember, that is a generalization that I am sure as many people will disagree with as will agree with.

Whiskey Law and Standards for What Whiskey is Bourbon, Scotch, Irish...
Let's break down the different kinds of whiskeys, what makes something a Bourbon or a Scotch and so on.  It can be very confusing...actually, it is in some respects.  So, let's start with the basics.

The general rule is that whiskeys are names based on the region in which they are distilled.  This began because of the regional nature of the brewing.  Each region, initially Scotland and Ireland, used locally sourced grains and water which dictated the taste and consistency of the drink.  So, the basics tell us that Scotch is distilled in Scotland, and Irish Whiskey is distilled in Ireland.  So, if you are in England or Scotland and you ask for whiskey, you'll likely
get Scotch... in Ireland, you'll get Irish Whiskey (duh).

There - now we've explained a lot of the whiskey you see on shelves!  And it knocks out two of the top four whiskeys in the world.  The other two?  Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey.  OK, OK, stop before you e-mail me or comment below -- I KNOW that Tennessee Whiskey is derivative of, and regulated by, the Bourbons and their associated laws.  So, generally speaking, Bourbons are whiskeys that are distilled in Kentucky in the United States.  However, if the whiskey is distilled in Tennessee, it is called a Tennessee Whiskey or sometimes a Kentucky Bourbon (but not usually).  If it says Bourbon on the label, it is from Kentucky - but if it says Tennessee Whiskey, it is a bourbon distilled in Tennessee.

But wait, you said something about laws and bourbon?  What's up with that?  In the United States, laws were passed as to what was Bourbon, and what was not.  According to Federal Standards for Identity for Bourbon, for a whiskey to call itself Bourbon, its mash (the mixture of grains from which the liquor is distilled, must contain at least 51% corn.  This mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, put in barrels at 125 proof or less and it must not contain any additives.  The distilled liquor must also be aged in a new charred oak barrel.  Most commonly, these barrels are made of a white oak.  The name?  Well that originates from an area that was once known as Old Bourbon, and is now Bourbon County, Kentucky.

So, what is different about a Tennessee Whiskey that makes it not the same as Kentucky Bourbon?  In theory, you can distill a bourbon anywhere.  And the good folks in Tennessee said, "yes, we can!"  They liked the bourbon being produced in Kentucky, but thought they could do better.  The part that makes a Tennessee Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey is the filtering.  Tennessee Whiskeys such as Jack Daniels are filtered through a sugar-maple charcoal.  This process is called the Lincoln County (Tennessee) process and is the only thing separates the two types of whiskeys.  I guess they did not like the name "Lincoln Whiskey," huh?

What about the process?
There is a bit of a difference in the process, too.  Usually, Scottish and American whiskeys are distilled twice, while the Irish do ti three times.  The extra distillation round gives the Irish Whiskey a light and smoother spirit.  The stills are also designed a little differently.  In Ireland and America, a pot still is often used.  That is a short, fat, large still with a round base. This produces a softer, more well-rounded spirit.  The Scots use a variety of different types of still, which gives Scotch a larger diversity in flavor and character.  The Scots also use peat to dry out the malted barley to prepare it for mashing.  This helps inject a degree of smokiness to the whiskey.  The Americans and Irish use wood to put the malt through its paces, which makes the spirit lighter and less smoky.

One other portion of the process that differs is in the grains used.  In Scotland, it is usually a malted barley.  While the Irish take a similar malted barley, and infuse other grains into the mixture.  This practice originated because of the historically poor economy in Ireland.  Mixing other grains in with the barley made it cheaper to produce.  American whiskeys resulted from the need to find new grains to use for whiskey.  The climate and soil in America is very different than in Ireland and Scotland.  So, American whiskeys use a variety of grains in their mash, which makes their flavor and character vary greatly from their Irish and Scotch cousins.

Are there other types of whiskeys out there?  Of course!  The originated in Asia, after all -- and there are some really great whiskeys from Japan that vary in style and flavors.  Some claim to be Scotch, some claim to be Bourbons, so you know if they are a corn whiskey or a grain whiskey.  And Germany boasts some really great Scotch derivatives, as well.

Have a favorite whiskey?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Epsilon Pi Tau Honor Society, Golden Key Honor Society, Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trek 101: U.S.S. Franklin in Star Trek: Beyond

In Star Trek: Beyond Kirk and Company escape after being lured into an ambush by Krall -- our villain in Beyond.  Krall and his forces decapitate the Enterprise, sending it crashing down onto Krall's prison planet where what is left of the crew of the Enterprise is enslaved with only Kirk, Scotty, Bones, Chekov, Spock and their new found friend Jaylah to break them out and save the day!  But even if our heroes save the remaining crew members who are enslaved by Krall (which include Uhura) there is no way off the planet.  Until they come across the damaged remains of the U.S.S. Franklin. 

Image Credit: Sean Healgroves: Star Trek Collective

The U.S.S. Franklin?  We are unfamiliar with the Franklin, aren't we?  You might be, but it does have an official backstory. 

Even though the Franklin lacks screen time in the Trekverse, we learn in Beyond that the Franklin, NX-326 (which is a reference to Lenoard Nimoy's birthday of March 26th) was the first warp 4 capable ship and was part of the Earth's planetary space going fleet.  "But wait," you gasp, "that cannot be!  The Enterprise NX-01 was the first warp 5 capable starship and it was designated the NX-01!  Timeline -- TIMELINE!"  Yes, yes -- this is a concern. however the dialogue in Beyond makes it clear that the Franklin comes before Archer's Enterprise.  Scotty references that the transporters on the Franklin were only used for cargo, and we remember (yes we do, you watched Enterprise) that when the NX-01 launched the transporters were experimental.  And only during the course of the show did they begin to transport people with them, which bridged the gap between the Frankiln-NX-01-NCC-1701 transporter capabilities. 

Now if only the writers had bridged the gap between why the NX-01 had shuttlecraft and the NCC-1701 did not... but perhaps that is a different BLOG post. 

But I digress, we also learn that it was captained by Captain Balthazar Edison just after the Earth-Romulan War when we see the dedication plaque on the bridge.  Scotty is also good enough to let us know that the ship vanished on a mission to the Gagarin Radiation Belt in 2164.  Apparently, we can surmise, is then crash landed on Altamid, the planet of Krall in Beyond.  Additionally, we learn that Edison was M.A.C.O. veteran, serving in the Xindi and Romulan wars.  This means that the Franklin likely had a M.A.C.O. contingent on it. 

So, while to some the Franklin may of seem to come out of nowhere, there is just enough filling in the blanks by Scotty and the visuals in Beyond to give the U.S.S. Franklin NX-326 and Captain Edison a place in Trek-Lore and the approximate date of the launch and loss of the Franklin make it possible fodder for inclusion in the Discovery universe. 

For one, I hope we get some filler on the Franklin in a Discovery episode!

For more information on the Franklin, visit Memory Alpha's USS Franklin Page.

Stay Trekkie, My Friends.

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

History 101: A History of Valentine's Day

Ah, Valentine's Day... we celebrate it every February 14th and whether you are a romantic who oohs and aahs every time they see a couple in love, or a heartless curmudgeon who wants to throw rocks at those couples, the history of Valentine's Day has something for you!

Today, we celebrate Valentine's Day as a day of love.  We are told that if we love someone, we will remember them on Valentine's Day by buying them shiny gifts, or things that smell nice and augment that with an expensive dinner and a card that professes love forever and ever (and ever).  If you forget... well that's what the dog house is for.  It is most certainly one of the biggest profit centers for card stores all year long.  Hallmark claims it is the second most "bought for" holiday of the year, and that is second to Christmas.  That's fairly impressive.  And those flower stores?  They LIVE for Valentine's Day.  Without V-Day, 1-800-Flowers might not still exist!  It is estimated to be an almost $20 billion dollar industry and it is estimated that (wait for it) nearly 60 million pounds of chocolate are sold!

But if you think Valentine's Day is all about Cupid, Heart boxes filled with chocolate and diamonds -- you are quite mistaken.

It's All Ancient History
The history of Valentine's Day and St. Valentine himself is muddy at best, but we will recount the most commonly held beliefs that follow the history of this day which makes people love and hate pretty equally.  Although it is thought that as early as 496, Pope Gelasius has been thought of as the origins of "St. Valentine", it is most commonly thought that the man who is tagged with being "St. Valentine" lived during the 3rd Century CE in Ancient Rome.  The man known as Valentine was an early Christian who went around marrying young Christian couples in defiance of the Roman order that limited marriage.  Christians thought of marriage as a blessed sacrament, and Valentine defied the order in deference to God, and did so quietly.  However, just as in modern day, it was nearly impossible to do something the people loved and wanted and hide it from "the man".  The "the man", who in this case was Emperor Claudius II, confronted Valentine with his actions that clearly defied the empire the plea bargain was clear.  Renounce your God in favor of the state, or die.  As we know this was not an uncommon move in Ancient Rome, so we can't be too judgy on Claudius here, nonetheless this spoke to the idea of standing up not denouncing God in public so... you can guess what Valentine did here.  Valentine was stoned and eventually beheaded (on February 14th, 278).

Church Swipes!
So, much like how the Church chose December 25th based on trying to take advantage of existing holidays and build off them, they chose February 14th for St. Valentine's Day in the same way.  It was previously known as the feats of Lupercalia.  This was a raucous holiday known for feasting, drinking and well... lots and lots of sex.  But not really in a good way... Roman men would sacrifice an animal, usually a goat or a dog, then eat and drink before whipping women with strips of the hide of the sacrificed animals.  Not cool, eh?  But, the Romans thought that whipping the women with the hide of the sacrificed animal would increase their fertility.  This would in-turn increase the numbers of babies born, that would increase the numbers of Roman soldiers who could die for the state.  Yay state!  But in the end, a drunken orgy commenced and all the men were left happy, drunk and satisfied while the women were... well, not.  Talk about white male privilege now?  We got nothing on pagan Roman males.  Just like the Pagan holiday that Christmas took over, the Christian church said, "let's take this and make it better!" -- one could say they were like the Microsoft of the ancient world... they didn't really create anything, but they took good ideas and made them better!  So they took the day, cleaned up the idea behind it and voila!  February 14th became the Christian holiday that surrounded love, marriage and creating a family. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

Translate to today, please?
Well, we all now know that the roots for the holiday sit firmly within St. Valentine's martyrdom (we Christians LOVE a good martyr) for marrying young Christians against the Roman Empire's decree, and it replaced a violent pagan tradition -- it took the one, the only Geoffrey Chaucer to actually begin to make it romantic...

"For this was on seynt Bolantynys day,
Whan every bryd comyth there to chese make."

Yup, that's the English of the period... but when it means is this, and there is no cheese involved...

"For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
When every bride come there to choose its mate."

OK, so there is probably the earliest "modern" reference to 2/14 being a hot and heavy, yet not-whippy, holiday.  Well... I mean, if you're into whips, who am I to judge... but I digress.  This poem was likely written to commemorate something that took place a bit after the actual Valentine's Day that we celebrate today, but point was made anyway.  Bottom line: Valentine's Day is romantic, boom.  You might be thinking, why would ONE poem make a day something.  Remember that pretty much no one could read at this time... and printing books was kind of a new thing.  So when something actually GOT printed, it was recited for entertainment and Chaucer was kind of a rock star.  It would be like Beyonce deciding Valentine's Day was the bomb and doing an album about it today.

And then, a couple of hundred years later... there was this from one of the most popular plays The Bard wrote and produced.  Yes, in Hamlet, William Shakespeare had our sad heroin, Ophelia sing:

"Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's dat,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine."

Whoa!  Shakespeare just created the modern idea of a "valentine."  To long after someone, and wish them to be "yours" is now a valentine!  And the mid-19th century the idea of Valentine's Day and romance, gifts, love, and all the other lovey dovey stuff was firmly established as custom and tradition.  Later int he 19th century, as printing became more common and affordable, hand-written letters professing love and adoration were replaced by greeting cards and "valentines" that we know today.

So, this Valentine's Day... sacrifice a goat and whip you mate in the name of historical accuracy!  And don't forget the chocolate...

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury, and Starbound (working name) which are currently a works in progress.