The Definitive Guide to All the Different Types of Whiskeys
What are the different types of whiskeys?
Whiskey, or ‘whisky’ depending on where it’s from, is one of the most iconic distilled alcoholic beverages in the world. Many people would consider a drink cabinet or bar incomplete without a bottle of some fine whiskey because there is never a shortage of occasions to drink this popular variety of alcohol. Matching its wide popularity, there are many different kinds of whiskey being produced and it can be really confusing for a given person to tell them from one another.
Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye are just some of the names associated with whiskey and while each and every single type of whiskey is made from specific grains like corn, wheat, rye, oats, and barley, there are still certain differences among them. To help you understand what that means, here is a basic, but comprehensive guide to the different types of whiskeys.
The easiest way to classify all the different types of whiskey is by categorizing them by their country of origin. In that regard, the first (and arguably most popular kind) is Scotch. Scotch is made in Scotland and has to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Scotch whisky has five primary varieties: single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended scotch.
Single malt, as the name suggests, is made from just malted barley and produced at a single distillery. Single Malt Scotch is regarded as the ‘purest expression’ of whisky and tends to have more flavor than its other counterparts. Some of the best single malt scotch brands to look out for are Glenlivet and Macallan. This type of whisky is usually enjoyed straight or on the rocks.
When it comes to single grain Scotch whisky, the ‘single’ doesn’t refer to the grain/s used to make it. This is to say that single grains can be made from more than one type of grain. Wheat, corn, or a blend of the two are the most common grains used for this purpose. This type of whisky is almost always used for blends.
This type of Scotch is simply a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
Like blended malt, this type is made from different kinds of single grain whiskies. However, this category of Scotch is rather small as single grain and blended Scotch is the most popular type being produced by distilleries in Scotland.
Finally, this last type is the most popular as the vast majority of Scotch sold around the world is of blended variety. It is made from one or more single malts with one or more single grains. It is the culmination of all the other types of Scotch being produced. Popular brands include Chivas Regal and Johnny Walker
Irish whiskey is considered to be the father of all whiskey. As with Scotch (it’s closest whiskey relative) and Scotland, Irish whiskey must be produced only in Ireland and aged for a minimum of three years. This is where the similarities end as Irish whiskey is distilled three times. Another unique technicality to Irish whiskey is that distillers can add enzymes to the mix to convert some starches into sugars before fermentation.
While there aren’t strict conventions on Irish whiskey classification, distillers must always add a ‘blended’ tag to any Irish whiskey made from two or more separately distilled whiskeys. One of the most recognizable brands when it comes to Irish whiskey is Jameson.
You might be inclined to say that bourbon is equivalent to all American-made whiskey, but that is really not the case. Just like with Scotch, American whiskey has a number of subtypes: Bourbon, Rye, and Tennessee Whiskey.
Starting with bourbon, this type of American whiskey has to have a minimum of 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels that are charred. New oak barrels are mandatory, which is why used bourbon barrels are used to age Scotch, amongst other whiskeys. Also, bourbon does not only have to be made in Kentucky, but it can also be made in any other part of the United States. One renowned manufacturer of bourbon is Jim Beam.
Rye whiskey is somewhat similar to bourbon in that it has to be aged in charred new oak barrels, but the key difference is in the type of grain used. Just as its namesake suggests, it has to be made with a minimum of 51% rye.
In a nutshell, Tennessee whiskey is just bourbon that is produced in Tennessee. However, prior to aging, it undergoes an extra charcoal filtering process called the ‘lincoln country process’. Jack Daniels is the leading brand in this category and is currently one of the biggest brands in the whiskey market.
Heading north of the United States, Canada is also one of the world’s leaders in whiskey production. Canadian whiskey is often called ‘rye’ whiskey even though it doesn’t meet the American standard of 51% rye content. In fact, Canadian ‘rye’ whiskey may not even have any rye at all. What gives it its moniker is the Canadian tradition of making whiskey that was known to have a rye flavor profile.
Canadian whiskey today incorporates more corn content than rye by mixing a bourbon-style with other grain whiskeys with a small percentage of an all-rye if not rye-heavy whiskey. They may also contain caramel and other flavorings in addition to the mash spirits to attain its signature aroma, character, and taste. To top it off, Candian whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years in 700-liter wooden barrels.
Japan is one of the countries that is making waves in the whiskey market and has only been getting worldwide acclaim in recent years. The Japanese have been making whiskey since the early 1920s thanks to Masataka Taketsuru’s (AKA the father of Japanese whiskey) trip to Scotland where he studied their grain distilling processes.
For this reason, Japanese whiskey is close to Scotch as there are now Japanese single malts and blended whiskies. What makes Japanese whiskey interesting is that they are liberal when it comes to the use of different stills, grain mixes, and profiles that lead to their own blend — contrasting the Scottish way of using a lone variety of single malt. Notable brands you’ve probably seen on the market include Hibiki, Yamazaki, and Nikka.
As you’ve read above, the world of whiskey is diverse as well as unique. Aside from the countries listed, whiskey is produced all over the world from European countries such as Sweden to the other side of the world thanks to Taiwan, India, and Australia’s effort in whiskey making.
Thanks to that, there are many options to choose from and finding the right kind of whiskey for you might be a challenge. Consider it an interesting challenge since finding your favorite one will involve many different brands and whiskey from all over the world.