Whether you drink your Manhattan with bourbon or rye, this grass is a key ingredient. The grain has been fermented since at least 3000 BC, for good reason: it is rich in enzymes that help break starch into fermentable sugar.
To kick-start this process, the grains are dampened to force germination. As the embryo sprouts, those enzymes are activated to provide sugar for the seedling—or for the fermentation tank.
Oak (Quercus alba)
As oak trees mature, the older vessels become plugged with crystalline structures called tyloses. As a result, the center of the tree—the heartwood—doesn’t conduct water at all, making it well-suited for use as a watertight barrel. Whiskey gets an astonishing array of flavors from the barrel.
American white oak produces the same flavor molecules found in vanilla, coconut, peach, apricot, and cloves.
Marasca Cherry (Prunus cerasus var. marasca)
In the distant, boozy past, a maraschino cherry was not an artificially dyed and overly sweetened atrocity. It was a dense, dark, sour cherry called the marasca that grew particularly well in Croatia, around the town of Zadar.
Fortunately, fine marasca cherries soaked in their own liqueur can still be found in some specialty shops.