If the different types of whiskey are confusing, you’re not alone. It can be hard to tell the difference between bourbon, Scotch, rye, and whiskey from various parts of the world.
Have no fear. In this article, we dive into the different types of whiskey and what makes each of them unique.
Types of Whiskey
There are nine different types of whiskey that you should be familiar with to consider yourself a whiskey connoisseur. We will dive into each type of whiskey’s background, what makes it unique, and other identifying characteristics.
If you develop a taste for a particular type of whiskey, we recommend you try out some of the most expensive bottles. The most expensive whiskeys rarely disappoint.
How Is Whiskey Made?
You make whiskey with grain mash. The most common types of grain used are corn, rye, wheat, and barley.
You grind the grain into a meal and mix it with water to create a mash to produce whiskey. Next, you add yeast to the mash and allow the mixture to ferment.
Finally, you distill the fermented mixture and age the final spirit in oak barrels. The type of grain you use and the length of the aging process will determine the final flavor of your whiskey.
Is It Whisky or Whiskey?
This one is a real head-scratcher. The answer is both. People in Scotland, Canada, and Japan spell whisky without the “e”. People in Ireland and the United States spell Whiskey with an “e”.
The difference in spelling comes from a translation error. When the Scottish started making whiskey, they used the Gaelic word uisgebeatha, which translates to “the water of life.” The Irish changed this translation to usquebaugh, which was then anglicized to whiskey.
So there you have it, whisky and whiskey are the same thing. They’re just spelled differently.
Different Types of Whiskey
Below we describe the different types of whiskey and their unique properties.
Irish whiskey is the oldest distilled spirit in the world. The Irish distill their whiskey from a mash of malted and unmalted barley and other grains. The mash is then distilled three times and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.
Irish whiskey is unique because it is usually distilled in pot stills, which gives the whiskey a richer flavor. Additionally, Irish distilleries blend their whiskey, meaning they are a combination of malt and grain whiskeys. Some popular Irish whiskey brands are Jameson, Bushmills, and Redbreast.
Scotch whiskey originates in Scotland, as the name would suggest. Scottish distilleries produce Scotch from malted barley and distill it twice in pot stills. They age the Scotch in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Scotland produces all of the Scotch in the world.
Scotch cannot be legally made outside of Scotland. Additionally, distilleries must use pot stills. Scotch whiskey also has a smokey flavor because the malt dries over peat fires. Some popular scotch whiskey brands are Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Glenlivet.
Japanese whiskey is a newcomer on the scene. The first Japanese whiskey distillery began operation in 1923, hundreds of years after their competitors in Ireland and Scotland. Japanese distilleries produce whiskey from malted rice, wheat, and barley. It is then distilled in pot stills and aged in oak barrels.
What makes Japanese whiskey unique is that distillers use pot stills and different grains than other types of whiskey. Japanese whiskey also has a light and delicate flavor. Some popular Japanese whiskey brands are Suntory, Nikka, and Hibiki.
Canadian distilleries make whiskey from a mash of corn, wheat, and rye. It is then distilled in column stills and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.
What makes Canadian whiskey unique is that it is usually lighter and sweeter than other types of whiskey. Additionally, Canadian whiskey must age in used barrels, which gives it a unique flavor. Crown Royal, Canadian Club, and Seagram are popular Canadian whiskey brands.
You make bourbon whiskey from a mash of at least 51% corn. It is then distilled in column stills and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Bourbon also has a sweeter flavor than other types of whiskey. Popular bourbon whiskey brands are Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, and Maker’s Mark.
Tennessee whiskey is a type of bourbon whiskey that distillers make in Tennessee. You must make it from a mash of at least 51% corn which is then distilled in column stills and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
What makes Tennessee whiskey unique is that you must make it in Tennessee. Tennessee whiskey also has a sweeter flavor than other types of whiskey. Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel, and Tennessee Honey are some popular Tennessee whiskey brands.
You make rye whiskey from a mash of at least 51% rye. It is then distilled in column stills and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Rye whiskey also has a spicier flavor than other types of whiskey. Some popular rye whiskey brands are Bulleit and Sazerac.
You make blended whiskey from a combination of malt and grain whiskeys. It is then blended and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Blended whiskey also has a more complex flavor than other types of whiskey.
Some popular blended whiskey brands are Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Crown Royal.
Single Malt Whiskey
Distillers make single malt whiskey with a single type of grain, typically barley. The barley is then malted. This means you soak the barley in water and allow it to germinate. Once the germination process is complete, the barley dries in a kiln.
After you dry the barley, the next step is to grind it up and mix it with water, creating a mash. You then take the mash and mix it with yeast. The yeast causes the mash to ferment and convert the sugars in the mash into alcohol.
Once the fermentation process is complete, the next step is distillation. This means that you need to heat the liquid until it turns into vapor before cooling it down, condensing back into a liquid. This process removes impurities from the whiskey.
The final step is aging—single malt whiskey ages in oak barrels. The length of time that you age a whiskey determines its flavor.
Some typical flavors include:
Different single malt whiskeys will have different flavors depending on the type of grain used, the distillery location, and the length of time it aged.
Frequently Asked Questions About Whiskey
If you still have more specific questions about whiskey, have no fear. This list of frequently asked questions about whiskey has got you covered!
What is whiskey made of?
Distillers use fermented grain mash when they produce whiskey. They can use different grains to make whiskey, but rye, wheat, and barley are the most common. The type of grain used will give the whiskey its distinctive flavor.
How long does whiskey need to be aged?
There is no rule for how long you need to age a whiskey. However, distillers typically label unaged whiskey as moonshine rather than whiskey. Unaged whiskey will have a clear color, similar to vodka or white rum. The aging process gives whiskey the iconic golden color and its smokey flavor.
In general, distillers age most whiskey for at least three years. However, the longer you age a whiskey, the deeper the flavor and the most expensive it is. Some of the most expensive whiskey bottles age upwards of 30 years.
What is the difference between whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, and rye?
Whiskey is a general category of alcohol that includes several different types of liquor. Bourbon, Scotch, and rye are all types of whiskey. Producers make bourbon with a mash that is at least 51% corn. Traditionally, bourbon is sweeter than other forms of whiskey.
Scotch is a type of whiskey made in Scotland. Scottish distillers aged Scotch for at least three years in oak barrels. Scotch has a smoky flavor due to the peat used to smoke the barley during the distilling process.
Rye is a type of whiskey made with at least 51% rye grain. Rye has a spicy flavor, and bartenders use it in cocktails.
Can Scotch be made outside of Scotland?
No, you cannot make Scotch outside of Scotland. All scotch distillers, by law, must produce the spirit in Scotland, and they must age the Scotch for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. The water used to make Scotch must also come from Scotland.
There are four different types of Scotch:
- Single malt
- Blended malt
- Blended grain
- Single grain.
Distillers use 100% malted barley to make single malt scotch. Additionally, they produce the single malt scotch in pot stills at a single distillery. Different regions of Scotland give their name to scotches depending on the area where the distiller makes the Scotch.
Distilleries produce blended malt scotch by combining two or more single malt scotches. These scotches frequently come from different distilleries. Distilleries produce blended grain scotch in a similar manner by combining multiple single grain scotches into a single liquid.
Distillers make single grain scotch from grains other than malted barley. Producers commonly use wheat and corn for single grain scotch.
Can bourbon be made outside of Kentucky?
Yes, distillers can make bourbon outside of Kentucky, but it must meet specific requirements. The distillery must use a mash that is at least 51% corn and age the spirit in oak barrels to call the spirit bourbon. They cannot distill the bourbon past 160 proof, and they must bottle it at 80 proof or less.
How is Tennessee whiskey different from bourbon?
Distillers can label a spirit bourbon if they produce it in the United States. Producers can make Tennessee whiskey worldwide. To label a spirit bourbon, you must make it from a mash of at least 51% corn, whereas distillers make Tennessee whiskey from any grain mash.
Finally, you must age bourbon in new, charred oak barrels, while the distillery can age Tennessee whiskey in used barrels.
What does barrel proof mean?
Distillers can label a whiskey “barrel proof” if they do not dilute it with water before bottling. This means that the alcohol content of barrel-proof whiskey is higher than that of other types of whiskey. As a result, barrel-proof whiskey has a more intense flavor and is often considered higher quality.
There are two main types of barrel-proof whiskey: cask strength and single barrel. Producers make cask-strength whiskey from a blend of different barrels. On the other hand, distillers make single-barrel whiskey from a single barrel. Cask strength whiskey is typically more expensive than single barrel whiskey.
Barrel-proof whiskey is typically more expensive than other types of whiskey due to the higher quality of barrels used. As a result, barrel-proof whiskey has a more intense flavor and is often considered higher quality.
What does it mean when whiskey is labeled “small batch”?
Small batch whiskey is whiskey made in small batches. The term is not regulated, but generally, distillers make small-batch whiskey in batches of no more than 200 barrels.
Craft distillers are more likely to produce small-batch whiskey than large corporations. Consumers tend to view small-batch whiskey as a premium product. Small batch whiskey often has a higher price point than mass-produced whiskeys.
Is it better to drink whiskey neat or on the rocks?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is a matter of personal preference.
Some people prefer to drink whiskey neat without ice or mixers. Others prefer to drink it on the rocks, which means with ice. Some people also like to add a splash of water to their whiskey.
Now you know the ins and outs of the different types of whiskey. Each type of whiskey has its unique characteristics and flavors. There is no best whiskey, and each different type has something special to offer.
Keep trying the different kinds of whiskey until you have found your favorite. Exploring the world of whiskey is a wonderful and exciting journey!