In another thread, Jono mentioned that, "Sorghum whiskey is brewed extensively in Asia."
Rather than divert that thread any further, I thought I'd go into this here.
"Sorghum Whiskey" is a misnomer, and a subject of a major international trade dispute with the European Union (EU) on one side and India on the other. The United States agrees with the EU.
There is a product made in India which producers and consumers there call whiskey. It is, however, made from sorghum or sugar cane, not cereals. Therefore the EU (and U.S.) won't allow it to be called whiskey in those markets. In the U.S., spirits made from sugar cane can be called rum. There is no specific designation for spirits made from sorghum, so they get stuck under some catch-all like "spirit specialty."
Corn (maize), wheat, barley, rye, sugar cane, and sorghum are all grasses, so what's the distinction? The U.S. regs use the term "grain" in the definition of whiskey. The EU uses "cereal."
Any botanists out there?
I assume the distinction is in what part of the plant is used. Whiskey uses the seeds. Rum and sorghum spirit use the stalk.
There is such a thing as grain sorghum. It is the third most important cereal crop grown in the United States and the fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world. It's primarily used as animal feed.
It's a sub-species known as sweet sorghum that is used to make spirits. It is processed much like sugar cane into a sweet syrup that can be fermented.
Sorghum is interesting because it was once widely cultivated and used in the American South, as it grows reliably in areas too far north for cane. Sorghum is an annual. Sugarcane is a perennial.
Sorghum syrup was to the southern states what maple syrup was to the North. Until the 1950s it was more popular there than sugar. Sorghum syrup was often marketed as sorghum molasses and since many of the people who used it weren't familiar with any other kind of molasses, they often just call it molasses, which confuses other people who think they mean the byproduct of white sugar production.
Sorghum molasses isn't as popular as it used to be but it still is made in the southern highlands. Using "molasses" is also confusing because true molasses is a by-product and comes in different grades, depending on how much of the sugar processing residue it contains. Sorghum molasses is the only product of sorghum processing and there is only one grade.
Since sorghum molasses was widely known and used throughout the South, one wonders if it was ever distilled? It very probably was on a small scale but I've never seen any indications that it was ever produced on a commercial scale.