by Jason Lowder May 04, 2022 4 min read
That’s a bit of a loaded question as the definition and categorization does vary a bit. Each country has unique regulations dictating what is and isn’t a whiskey, and how a spirit must be produced and made in order to qualify as a ‘whiskey’.
All that said, generally speaking, there are nine (9) distinct types of whiskeys or categories of whiskey to choose from.
The 9 Types of Whiskey Include:
You’ve likely heard or seen it spelled both ways. We assure you it's not a typo, and both spellings are in fact correct depending on the circumstance. Turns out, how its spelled depends on where the spirit was made.
For example, The use of the ‘e’ in whiskey is an Irish tradition that was passed on to American distillers. To this day, American whiskey is spelled using the ‘e’.
The Scottish, however, cheeky ladies and gents that they are, do not use the ‘e’, and rather spell their spirits as Whisky. Interestingly, both Japanese and Canadian distillers have also adopted the Scottish spelling.
Proudly made in America, this whiskey is denoted by its rye content, which is required by law to comprise at least 51% of the mash. The remaining ingredients typically include barley and corn, although some distillers experiment with other ingredients for special batches.
The distilling process is identical to that of bourbon, with barrels aged for two or more years labeled as “straight rye whiskey’. As for flavor profiles, rye whiskey tends to have spicier notes and is less sweet and smooth as compared to bourbon.
Technically classified as a ‘bourbon’, there are certain distillers that still resent being lumped into that category. As an alternative, they label the spirits as Tennessee Whiskey. And as you might have gathered, this whiskey is distilled in Tennessee. State law there requires that all distillers use a filtering step called ‘Lincoln County Process’ before letting the whiskey age.
Not to stereotype, but the Irish know their whiskey. Known for its smooth flavor and palate, Irish whiskey is traditionally made from a malt mash, and can only be distilled using both water and caramel coloring. Further, it is a requirement that this spirit be distilled in wooden casks for no less than 3-years to be legally called Irish Whiskey.
Styled in American fashion, this bourbon’s unique characteristic is that it is made from at least 51% corn mash. IT also must be aged in a brand new oak barrel and made in America. Of note, is that there is no minimum required aging period, but, it must be bottled at 80-proof or higher.
A relative newcomer to whisky production, Japan has quickly risen to become a well-respected producer of whiskies. The Japanese follow a process similar to scotch, with the end result similar to some of the finest Scotches produced.
One unique aspect of Canadian whisky is that by law, it is required that Canadian whisky be barrel-aged for a minimum of 3-years. This process results in a smoother and lighter whisky. Generally speaking, most Canadian whiskies are made from a high corn content sometimes mixed with rye, wheat, and/or barley.
Simply referred to as ‘scotch’, this whisky is made ONLY in Scotland. The Scots take the distillation process seriously, with tight regulations and laws surrounding how the spirit is made. Using either malt or grain, each whisky must be aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of three years, with an ‘age statement’ listed on each bottle. Scotch is notoriously complex and nuanced, with a smoky flavor from the use of peat water.
As the name suggests, blended whiskey highlights the fact that these spirits are a mixture or ‘blend’ of more than one single malt whiskey, OR, a blend of other blended whiskies.
This whiskey term is also used to describe a whiskey that is blended with other flavors, grains, or colorings.
Although high-end blended whiskies exist, in most cases, blends are seen by whiskey aficionados as inferior. As such, blended whiskey is often a more budget-friendly option, and used frequently in the making of cocktails where the quality of the whiskey is overshadowed by other flavors and thus less important.
Single malt whiskey or scotch is made from a single batch at a distillery. All single malt must be aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels prior to being bottled.
The term single malt stems from a key ingredient: malted barley. However, within America, single malt is sometimes made from rye instead of malted barley.
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