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Home Lifestyle Types of Whiskey Defined: A Simple Crash Course

Types of Whiskey Defined: A Simple Crash Course

A full crash course for understanding the variations in rye, bourbon, scotch, and every thing in between.

Whisky is a deliciously broad class of spirits. With all of the different sorts of whiskey it may be formidable to say the least. Which makes getting your begin studying what you want and do not robust by itself, not to mention in the event you’re making an attempt to order a decent glass to your boss or select a powerful bottle to provide as a present.

Whereas the totally different whiskey sorts fall below the identical broad class, they will style dramatically totally different the best way a ribeye steak and a drive-thru hamburger are each beef.

Our information will assist make sense of all of the whiskey phrases and concepts you’ve got overheard and the way they match collectively.

Fast Whiskey Primer:

  • Whisky is a distilled liquor produced from a fermented grain like barley, corn, or rye that’s aged in oak barrels. The barrels are charred on the within and are the explanation whiskies have a notable woodiness, amongst different flavors.
  • Whiskies have an alcohol content material of 40% to 60%, on the low finish of that vary for most typical whiskies. Alcohol content material is measured in “proof”.
  • The first distinction within the flavors of whiskey sorts is which grain is dominant.
  • Rye vs bourbon vs scotch: The dominant grain in rye is rye, corn for bourbon, and barley in scotch. Rye tends to have a spicier style, corn produces a sweeter whiskey, and when barley is dried by burning peat in some scotches, the whisky takes on a smoky taste.
  • Relying on which nation the whisk(e)y is produced in typically determines if the spirit is spelled whiskey or whisky.

How Whisky is Made

When decreased to its elements, all whisky sorts are made in the same manner:

whisky grain

1. Malting

Grain is soaked, laid flat to sprout, then dried, and heated. 

whisky mash tun

2. Mashing

“Mash” is created by mixing grain with water in a mash tun. 

whiskey fermentation process

3. Fermentation

The mash is added to the fermentation tank with yeast. The yeast turns the sugars into alcohol. 

whiskey distillation process

4. Distillation

The result’s heated in a nonetheless till the alcohol separates from the water as a gasoline. 

whisky barrel and bottle aging

5. Growing old & Bottling

Water is reintroduced to the alcohol and aged in wooden barrels. The alcohol dissolves taste molecules out of the wooden. To supply much more taste, the within of the barrel is charred with fireplace. Some whiskey types have minimal ageing necessities. Lastly, it’s prepared for bottling.

What’s whiskey made of?

A very powerful factor to grasp when studying about whisky is the first taste distinction between the categories is decided by which grain is dominant. For instance, scotch is made primarily with barley and bourbon with corn. Different variations, like the form of the nonetheless (scotch is made in pots and bourbon is made in columns) additionally performs a job.

For a enjoyable, nerdy, however comprehensible deep dive into how whisky is made, take a look at this PBS walkthrough.

Whiskey vs. Whisky

Whiskey or whisky? How on earth do you spell whisk(e)y?

  • Irish whiskey is spelled with an e
  • Whiskey made in the USA is spelled with an e
  • Scotch whisky is spelled with out an e
  • Canadian whisky is spelled with out an e
  • Indian whisky is spelled with out an e
  • Japanese whisky is spelled with out an e

Why are there two spellings of whisky? In a phrase: advertising. Previous to the 19th century, most of the world spelled it with out an e, even the Irish, who had been producing 70% of the worlds whisky on the time. The Scots started making inroads into the market, and the massive 4 Irish distilleries revealed a guide decrying the Scottish spirit, “can’t be whisky, and it ought to not be bought below that title.” A royal fee later decided each could possibly be referred to as whisky, and because of this many of the larger Irish distilleries started labeling their product “whiskey” as a solution to differentiate it. 

Quick ahead to post-Prohibition America, Irish whiskey and scotch whisky had been the most well-liked types within the US, however Irish bought at a 25% premium and was thought of to be of a better high quality, so American producers adopted an e in an try and affiliate their spirit with it. 

Types of Whiskey

North America

Whiskey has an extended historical past within the American colonies and was one of the primary industries to emerge. It’s sewn into the material of the nation, being distilled by founding fathers, and the tax of it prompted the Whiskey Revolt. As Dickinson Legislation Librarian Mark Podvia famous in his paper Bourbon and the Legislation, “Remoted farmers, significantly these on the frontier, discovered it far simpler to transform their extra grain to whiskey for cargo to market by wagon or raft.”


Main grain: Corn

Taste profile: Woody & candy

Regardless of advertising fables that declare in any other case, the invention and early historical past of bourbon will not be properly understood. Whisky-making was possible delivered to the Kentucky area by settlers with Scotch and Irish lineages. 

In 1964, the USA congress handed a concurrent decision defining bourbon as a product particularly of the US. By regulation, it have to be made within the US (although 95% of it’s made in Kentucky), however the manufacturing legal guidelines controlling the spirit date again to the Pure Meals and Drug Act which was handed in 1906. 

It, and subsequent clarifications, legally require bourbon to even be:

  • 51% from corn (most are 70-80%) and the remaining elements may be rye, wheat, and malted barley. [The corn in bourbon makes it sweeter than rye whiskey.]
  • Distilled at no greater than 160 proof
  • Aged in new charred oak barrels at not more than 125 proof
  • With a minimal of 80 proof at bottling
buffalo trace bourbon
Buffalo Hint Bourbon
Blanton's Bourbon
Blanton’s Bourbon

Bourbon cocktail recipes: Outdated Long-established, Boulevardier, Mint Julep

What’s proof?

Proof is the unit of measurement for alcohol content material in a spirit. It’s calculated by multiplying the % of alcohol by quantity (ABV) by 2. A whiskey that’s 45% alcohol shall be labeled as 90 proof. A whiskey with a better proof is also known as “barrel proof” or “cask proof”.

Wheated Bourbons

Taste profile: Mellow & nutty

In a wheated bourbon, rye is changed by wheat as one of the grains after the dominant corn. The result’s a sweeter whiskey. Maker’s Mark is probably the most ubiquitous of this selection, and Pappy Van Winkle might be probably the most well-known.

Wheated bourbons to attempt:

Tennessee Whiskey

Main grain: Corn

Taste profile: Candy & smoky 

Tennessee whiskey is made similar to bourbon, however with one additional key step referred to as the “Lincoln County Course of”. Earlier than being put in charred oak barrels for ageing, it’s poured over sugar maple charcoal. The result’s mellower, gently sweeter, and smoky. Attributable to a state instituted prohibition that outlasted the nationwide prohibition, solely a small quantity of distilleries have survived.

Widespread Tennessee whiskies

What’s straight whiskey?

To be labeled a straight whiskey, the whiskey should meet the opposite American authorized necessities whereas additionally aged for a minimal of two years. If aged lower than 4 years, a precise age assertion should seem on the label. This shouldn’t be confused with ordering or consuming a whiskey “straight” which is identical as neat: No ice, no water.


Main grain: Rye

Taste profile: Spicy & smoky

American rye may be made wherever within the US. It’s made of a 51% rye mash combination, versus corn for bourbon, and is noticeably spicier. George Washington produced rye at Mount Vernon, and it was the most typical whiskey of the northeastern states, however died out after prohibition. It is seen a revival in recent times. When utilized in a cocktail as a substitute of bourbon, the result’s drier, which may be a bonus if the recipe contains sweeter elements.

Greatest rye whiskies to start out

Old Overholt Rye
Outdated Overholt Rye

Rye whiskey cocktail recipes: Manhattan, Sazerac, Outdated Pal, Vieux Carré, The Toronto, Lodge D’Alsace,

Canadian Whisky

Main grain: Blended grain, primarily corn

Taste profile: Gentle

A lighter, sweeter type, Canadian whisky (no ‘e’) is straightforward to drink even within the hotter months. As a result of of this, Canadian whisky blends properly with mixers. One facet to the whisky of the north: Consistency. A many years previous bottle ought to style the identical as a brand new one.

So far as liquors go, Canadian whisky is fairly unrestricted. Canadian regulation permits Canadian whisky to be referred to as Canadian Whisky, Canadian Rye Whisky, or Rye Whisky, though there’s a better share of corn within the combination and solely a small bit of rye and permits for the inclusion of “caramel and flavouring”.

Learn extra about The Fascinating Historical past of Whiskey in North America.

Scotch Whisky

Main grain: Barley

Taste profile: Advanced

scotland map of scotch regions
Scotch whisky areas

Scotch stands out as the largest class of whisky in phrases of variations primarily based on course of, elements, and area. Scotland has extra distilleries than every other nation. Whereas a typical assumption is that scotch is ‘smoky’, solely a handful are. This can be a remnant of the malting course of, the place smoke from burning peat is used to dry the barley, at present it is an non-obligatory taste enhancer.

Just like bourbon in America, scotch is outlined by the regulation. It have to be matured in Scotland for a minimum of Three years in oak barrels. Moreover, “Single malts” are produced at a single distillery, in a pot nonetheless by batch distillation, utilizing solely water and malted barley. This causes them to be dearer and individualistic.

“Blended scotches” are extra mellow, simpler to drink, however tougher to make. Mix masters obtain whisky from throughout Scotland and should create a mix that tastes in line with what was produced the yr earlier than, though the elements have modified. The mixing smoothes out the tough edges and fills in gaps which might be current in a single malt. Each varieties may be scrumptious for various causes.

Widespread blended scotches

johnnie walker black blended scotch whisky
Johnnie Walker Black
chivas regal scotch
Chivas Regal Scotch


Taste profile: Candy

speyside scotch region

Identified for a easy, fruity end because of the contemporary water used for distillation. Thought of by some to be probably the most elegant of the nation’s whiskies, the Speyside has extra distilleries than any of the opposite areas.


Taste profile: Smoky

islay scotch region

Identified for smokiness, Islay whiskies have a pungent medicinal tang stemming from sea salt infused peat moss employed to dry the barley malt.


Taste profile: Medium-bodied

highland scotch region

Highland scotches range in character, and might embody the peaty smoke of an Islay or the smoothness of a Speyside. Usually they’re thought of to be medium-bodied and fragrant, with a spread of tasting notes from advanced to delicate.


Taste profile: Relative sweetness & simplicity

lowland scotch region

Lowland scotches are recognized for his or her mild profile and little to no peatiness. As a result of of this, they’re usually utilized in blends since their traits usually are not overpowering. Whereas the world has fewer distilleries than northern areas, it has historic roots to whisky making, with Friar John Cor distilling whisky for King James IV in 1494.

→ Learn extra about scotch: Getting Began With Scotch Whisky: Every part You Must Know

Scotch cocktail recipes: Smoked Manhattan, Blood And Sand, Rob Roy, Bobby Burns, Penicillin,

Irish Whiskey

Main grain: Barley

Taste profile: Dry & fruity

map of ireland, irish whiskey

It’s believed that Christian missionary monks started distilling an aqueous ethanol resolution for medical compounds and spiritual rituals when arriving in Eire within the seventh century. Seemingly fruit-based to start with, by the mid-1500’s the use of barley was widespread and whiskey was born. From there, the spirit made its solution to Scotland and all over the world.

What is the distinction between Irish whiskey and scotch? Whereas the malt utilized in producing scotch is dried with burning peat, the malt in Irish whiskey is dried in kilns, leading to a easy, mild spirit that is simple on the palate. As soon as the most typical whiskey on the planet, Prohibition decreased Eire’s distilleries to simply two. Nevertheless, with elevated funding and market efficiency, as of December 2019 Eire has 32 whiskey distilleries.

→ Dive deeper: An Introduction to Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey cocktail recipes: Lodge D’Alsace, Irish Espresso, Irish Maid

“Easy” could not all the time be your desire

One of probably the most eye-opening moments as I used to be studying to understand whiskey was once I took a sip of one which was extraordinarily easy – low alcoholic burn within the mouth – and I…was upset. It was in that second that I noticed the alcoholic burn is a part of a whiskey’s taste. Like salt, an excessive amount of is uncomfortable and too little is bland. How a lot is the “proper” quantity is a private desire.

Japanese Whisky

Main grain: Barley

Taste profile: Broad like scotch

map of japan, japanese whisky

Similar to champagne can solely come from France and the type made elsewhere is labeled glowing wine, all scotch have to be made in Scotland. What do you name that kind of whisky whenever you make it in Japan? Why, Japanese whisky of course. 

Japanese whisky is the relative newcomer on the planet of whisky sorts, with Yamazaki, its first distillery based by Shinjiro Torii, opening in 1924. Like scotch, the first grain is malted barley and is distilled with pot stills. The truth is, one other one of Japanese whisky’s founding fathers, Masataka Takesuru labored in a number of Scottish distilleries, studying the craft earlier than returning to Japan and dealing at Yamazaki to supply Suntory Whisky. 

Subsequently Takesuru struck out on his personal and began what would later be referred to as Nikka Whisky, the second most profitable distillery in Japan. Suntory grew to turn into the third largest distiller on the planet when it bought Beam Inc, makers of Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Outdated Overholt, Laphroaig, and lots of others, in 2014.  

And, simply as California wines had been usually seen as second-rate in comparison with conventional European choices till they began coming in first place at competitions, Japanese whisky was lengthy ignored. That’s, till 2001 when a Japanese whisky received Whisky Journal’s prime worldwide prize “Greatest of the Greatest,” with Suntory whiskies successful gold medals in worldwide whisky competitions yearly since. 

The sudden enhance in status has come at a value. Shortages have plagued the Japanese whisky provide for years, inflicting some producers to start mixing their product with imported scotch and different eyebrow elevating practices. This resulted within the main commerce affiliation that covers Japanese whisky to announce sweeping new industry-wide laws detailing what may be labeled as “Japanese whisky” in February 2021. Not like the authorized necessities of scotch and bourbon of their respective nations, Japanese whisky has had little regulation up up to now. 

Nothing pairs with whiskey like some nice music. That is why we created A Playlist – Music to Sip Whiskey to: A Gentleman’s Introduction to the Blues.

introduction to the blues


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