Essential Ingredient: Whiskey

Tips for enjoying―and cooking with―this spirited ingredient.

All About: The term "proof" indicates the amount of alcohol a beverage contains. In the United States, the proof is exactly twice he percentage of alcohol. For example, a "100 proof" liquor is 50 percent alcohol. The average amount of alcohol in distilled spirits in this country is 80 proof.

Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and the U.S. are the countries with the highest whiskey production.

If the whiskey is produced in Scotland or Canada, it is traditionally spelled whisky, without the "e."

Keep your stirring to a minimum when mixing whiskey and ice; the more you stir, the faster the ice will dilute the blend.

Alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than other liquids, so keep this in mind if you're preparing a frozen dessert containing alcohol.

Selection tips: The type of grain and yeast used, how it's aged and distilled, and the water source will determine a whiskey's quality and taste. Some of the varieties are: straight whiskey, which includes bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye whiskey; blended whiskey, a combination of two or more 100-proof straight whiskeys; light whiskey, which has been distilled to a higher alcohol level and then diluted with water; and single-malt whiskey, which is made from a single distillery. Single-malt whiskeys are usually richer in flavor and more expensive.

Storage tips: Most whiskey is aged in wooden barrels in order to enhance the flavor. You will find whiskey available for purchase in glass bottles, which should be stored away from direct sunlight or extreme heat.

How to drink it: High-quality whiskey is meant to be sipped slowly and enjoyed, though we'll leave this method to our more-restrained counterparts.

Peak growing season: You should be able to find this potent potable year-round.

Health benefits: Hmm...we thought long and hard about this one and couldn't manage to make anything sound convincing, so you're on your own.

Nutritional info for one fl. oz. of 86 proof, distilled whiskey: 69.5 calories, 0 grams of fiber, 0 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat (0 saturated), 0.2 milligrams of sodium, and 0 cholesterol.

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