There were nearly 40 million whiskey drinkers in the US in 2017.
That’s approximately 12% of the entire population! Clearly, whiskey’s a popular tipple.
But what type of whiskey is everyone drinking? Is it scotch? Or bourbon? Rye? Irish whiskey? American whiskey? Japanese?
It’s impossible to say.
In fact, the word ‘whiskey’ (or ‘whisky’) is somewhat misleading. In reality, whiskey has developed through the ages, ever since the concept of fermenting grains began, thousands of years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia.
Whiskey has been present in European monasteries, survived taxes and prohibition, and been favored by the impoverished and ruling classes alike. Thanks to its long and rich history, there are now many different types of whiskey in the world.
And it can all get a little confusing.
Are you a whiskey fan? Do you want to learn everything there is to know about the different types that are now out there?
Keep reading to find out.
The Whiskey Basics
Let’s begin with the basics.
In its simplest form, whiskey is an overarching term for alcohol distilled from grain (corn, rye, barley, oats, and/or wheat) and put into barrels to age.
Here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Whiskey’s fairly well-regulated and is made all over the world. The different types of whiskey relate to where they’re made, how they’re distilled, the alcohol percentage, and the particular grains used.
Each factor alters the flavor and the name given to the whiskey.
In essence, bourbon, scotch, and whiskey are all whiskeys. But their ingredients, creation process, and country of origin all differ.
The Difference Types of Whiskey
Confused by the many varieties of whiskey? Here’s everything you need to know. Remember, the difference lies in the origin, composition, ingredients, and distillation process.
Say hello to what many people consider the cream of the crop.
Scotch whiskey has a long and proud heritage. It must be produced exclusively in Scotland, be made from malted barley, and age for at least 3 years. Scotch tends to have a peaty-like taste compared to others, though the exact character depends on the region of Scotland from which it derives.
There are different types.
Single-malt whiskeys come from just one distillery and are aged in oak barrels. The ingredients are exclusively malted barley, water, and yeast. This is compared to a blended-malt, which takes such whiskey from 2 or more distilleries and blends them together.
Blended whiskey (not blended malt!) takes a single malt and combines it with a whiskey made from corn or wheat.
American whiskeys usually rely on the prevalence of rye and corn in the country. These key ingredients gave rise to the whiskeys that followed European settlement here.
Bourbon is an immensely popular American whiskey that’s made from corn (at least 51% corn, to be precise!). To get the name, it must be made in the US, with no coloring, flavoring, or any other form of additive involved.
This whiskey is similar to bourbon, but is mellowed out by being filtered through maple charcoal during the pre-aging production process. It must fall between 51-79% corn too.
The most famous example of Tennessee whiskey is Jack Daniels.
Rye whiskey must contain at least 51% rye. In all other ways, its production is similar to bourbon, though. However, the end result (thanks to the makeup of rye) is spicier, less sweet, and crisper to taste.
Irish whiskeys are, obviously, made in Ireland.
Interestingly, it was here that whiskey came from. There are records that suggest it goes all the way back to 6th Century AD!
You find many of the same characteristics of Scotch in Irish Whiskey. For instance, there are single-malt Irish whiskeys too, which tick many of the same boxes. The difference is that it gets triple distilled, and the malted barley gets roasted in a kiln to bring out the flavor.
One unique Irish whiskey is what’s called “single pot still whiskey.” This is made of malted and unmalted barley, put together in a pot still.
Japanese whiskey is based on the world-famous scotch model of production.
It has a similar character as a result. However, Japan’s growing reputation as a quality whiskey maker has helped them to establish their own unique style. In fact, a few years ago it was a Japanese whiskey that was named the best in the world.
Particular differences to Scottish production include the use of varyingly sized stills. The scots may only have one of two sizes in their distilleries. The Japanese often have many more.
This enables them to vary the flavor and character of their whiskeys with far greater freedom. The tastes are bold, yet delicate, both balanced and smooth. They often have a honey perfume that adds a lovely sweet finish.
Time to Wrap Up
There you have it: everything you needed to know about the different types of whiskey!
The long and illustrious history of whiskey has informed the many different varieties that now exist. Over time, the locations, ingredients, and processes have given rise to all manner of new types. Theirs is a shared heritage and foundation with altered names and styles.
We’ve been through some of the main ones here.
Scotland is famed for its single malts, and blends. The Americas enjoy bourbon, Tennessee, and rye whiskey. The Irish grace us with similar options, including their own unique single pot still whiskey. Finally, the Japanese are the new kids on the block, creating all manner of new styles based on the processes used by the Scots the centuries.
Hopefully, you now understand the different whiskey options out there!
Now we’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite type of whiskey? Single malt scotch? Or classic bourbon? Let us know in the comments!
And be sure to contact us with any questions or other comments about whiskey.