Whiskey is one of the most popular drinks in the world. There are numerous types of whiskey to choose from, and each has its unique flavor profile.
This post will explore the various kinds of whiskey according to style and location so you can pick what suits your tastes! But first, let’s learn what whiskey is.
What is Whiskey / Whisky?
Whiskey is a popular alcoholic beverage that manages to be classy yet simple at the same time. There are many varieties of whiskey, some being very affordable while others can cost an arm and a leg. The grains used to make whiskey include rye, corn, barley, wheat, and sorghum.
To create the alcohol content in this drink, manufacturers have the components fermented into sugars before being distilled for any remaining liquid, eventually turning into the finished product.
In terms of taste, whiskeys vary from batch to batch depending on various factors such as chemical composition and aging time. These differences are what make each whiskey unique.
Some people can get confused about how to spell whiskey, but it is enough to know that the variation in spelling stems mainly from geographical differences.
Scottish distillers use "whisky" while their Irish counterparts keep things traditional with their plain "whiskey." Meanwhile, American distillers follow the Irish spelling, while Canadian and Japanese distillers use the Scottish spelling. Therefore, whiskey and whisky are both valid!
Whiskey According to Style
Single malt whisky is a type of Scotch whisky that comes from one single Scottish distillery. People often mistakenly believe that they come from only one batch and don't allow blending, but this isn't true at all!
The term "single" refers to the fact it's made in just one location instead of being sourced elsewhere, not whether or not multiple batches were blended during production.
Single malt scotch is also held in higher regard than blended whiskeys. For one, they represent the distillery and location where they were made, more so than their counterparts.
The flavors of a single malt whisky are unique to the region it is produced due to the peat used for smoking barley and wood from which its barrels were made. This unique flavor profile lends itself nicely with other artisan-like elements, adding mystique and making each bottle feel like a handcrafted masterpiece.
Moreover, it has an ABV of 40-65% and contains 64–97 calories in a shot. It is usually aged for five years or beyond.
Like single malt, malt whiskey is produced from a fermented mash consisting primarily of malted barley. However, it is possible to include other malted grains, but those whiskeys need to have their grains specified just like "rye malt whiskey" or "buckwheat malt whiskey."
If a particular whiskey is made at a single distiller, it is called a "single malt whiskey."
Grain whisky is a Scottish and Irish whiskey that isn't made from malted barley but other grains. It may either contain any grain or mixture thereof. Most distilleries use wheat since it contributes more to the supply than corn, which is used in earlier times due to price concerns.
Grain whiskey can be distilled higher than malt whiskey in column stills, but it would not have as many flavors.
Producers have been doubling their efforts to make mild grain whiskey available for purchase as a single-grain spirit. These whiskeys are almost always distilled in cheaper column stills and only matured for a short period.
Since it is meant primarily for blending with other liquors, the flavor profile tends to be clean without the signature spiciness or fruitiness that can develop from aging.
In general, grain whiskeys are mild and easy to drink. If you haven't had any whiskey in your life and want to get acquainted with this spirit category, you can start with this kind of whiskey.
They're made from corn (also called maize) or wheat and also utilize used barrels. You can expect some sweetness, but not an intense vanilla/maple flavor like a traditional bourbon.
As the name suggests, blended whiskey is a blend of different whiskeys, like malt and grain. These are all types of whiskey that vary in their style and origin, from distillery to distillery.
When making a blended whiskey, at least 20% of the blend must be straight whiskey, and up to 80% can consist of other whiskeys. The mixture of different flavors made by various distillers establishes the blended whiskey's character since everyone creates an alternative flavor profile.
The most well-known companies also use consistent blends during manufacturing; thus, the tastes rarely change. Some people may swerve blended whiskeys because they believe single malts are better, but this isn't true at all.
Blended whisky has an immense range of flavors, obviously because it is created by mixing whiskies. It is as complex and flavorsome as a single malt at a more affordable price point.
Rye whiskey has specific legal regulations which must be followed. Rye grain, the predominant ingredient in rye whiskeys, makes up 51% of the mash, and the remaining 49% can be a blend of corn, wheat, or malted barley.
For rye whiskey, the ABV shouldn't exceed 80%. The final product of all that sweet liquor is diluted down to no more than 62.5% ABV, or 125 proof before it gets bottled up for consumption. The liquid is then transferred into charred new oak barrels where it will be aged.
With its characteristic spicy bite and peppery flavor, Rye whisky is perfect for those who love a splash of hot spice to their drink.
Rye's flavors can vary. Some may feature big and bold tastes and long finishes that leave you feeling warm on the inside. Others have more bite to them right off the bat but thin out as they go down your throat, so it feels like nothing was there at all afterward!
There's an endless amount of rye drinks, too, depending on what kind of taste you're looking for.
There are various types of whiskey, but they all fall under one large umbrella. Classifications include bourbon, rye, wheat, and malt whiskeys which can then be designated as "straight" if the beverage is new or has been aged for a minimum of 2 years.
Straight bourbon whiskey is made following strict guidelines. To be considered straight, it must meet three requirements: it doesn't go beyond 80% ABV, contains at least 51% corn, and was barreled in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years at no more than 62.5% ABV.
It's common to see the term "straight bourbon whiskey" or "straight rye whiskey." However, if you only read "straight whiskey," it means that this product doesn't meet the standard requirement of at least 51% of a single grain. Therefore, it doesn't qualify as anything else like bourbon, for example.
Moreover, it's completely okay for a straight whiskey to be a blend of two or more straight whiskeys from the same state without being called a "blend."
The requirements for wheat whiskey are the same as bourbon. Though wheat whiskeys are famous in the United States, other countries are free to produce them, so long as they follow specific production standards.
To ensure that the whiskey qualifies as a wheat whiskey, it should not exceed 80% ABV at distillation, aged in new charred oak containers with a maximum of 62.5% ABV when entering the barrel, and bottled at 40% ABV or higher.
However, unlike bourbon that requires 51% corn, wheat whiskey requires 51% wheat instead; and it's kind of obvious given its name. You may also find whiskey brands that strictly use 100% for their products or just the minimum.
Wheat whiskey has a flavor profile similar to other wheat products, like wheat crackers and bread. It is flavorful, but it showcases lightness and gentle sweetness at the same time. The spice factor generally remains relatively low for this distilled spirit, but it can still depend on the secondary grains included.
For a whiskey to be identified as corn whiskey, the mash must contain at least 80% corn. It also requires that it is aged in either used or un-charred oak barrels.
Corn whiskey is an excellent choice if you want to drink something that has rich, sweet flavors. It showcases flavors such as honey and browned butter with notes of marshmallow on top. It is created by using charred American oak barrels, which will make it easy for your taste buds to savor the different flavors in every sip.
Light whiskey is often confused with diet or low-calorie beverages, but this type of liquor has nothing to do with calories.
In the past, light whiskey was the standard. It was born in 1968, and a few craft distillers have released bottles that still exist today. It's lighter than standard whiskey but darker than grain spirits, making it somewhere between both liquors color-wise.
For a whiskey to be considered light, its ABV must stay between 80-95%. The maturation requirements for this alcohol aren't as intricate as other whiskeys.
Today, light whiskeys are standard as a component for blended whiskeys, especially for Canadian whisky.
The world came to know about the spirit whiskey sometime after the Prohibition, when fully aged whiskeys were almost impossible to find. However, when the properly-aged whiskey supply became plentiful, spirit-based whiskeys fell out of favor.
In any case, note that for whiskey to qualify as spirit, the mixture should be a combination of neutral grain spirit and whiskey. The whiskey should be about 5%, and straight whiskey shouldn't exceed 20%.
Some so-called "spirit whisky" is just liquor with a slight taste of alcoholic flavor, but the recent trend in craft spirit whiskeys is creating some truly unique options.
11. Single Cask
The name of this specific whiskey comes from the fact that it has been distilled in a single barrel. The whiskey aging process involves diverse chemical processes that influence maturation speed, flavor profiles, and evaporative loss.
One of the most critical aspects of single cask whiskey production is temperature control. Evaporation affects flavor, so it is essential to control how deeply a barrel's contents are pulled into it and how much of it is exposed to its wood surface area.
Even when distillers work with the same mash bill, yeast, and duration of maturation time, two separate barrels can yield highly different results.
12. Cask Strength
This type of whiskey is bottled with the same percentage of alcohol - whether by volume or proof - as drawn from its barrel. Unlike other whiskeys diluted to standard ratios before being sold in stores, a cask-strength whiskey has no water added, so each bottle contains precisely the same as what came out of the distillery itself.
So, what makes a cask-strength whiskey appealing? It packs quite the punch, especially when flavors are combined to create something even more robust. To do this, liquor is allowed to seep into an oak cask's wood grain and diffuse with the spirit held inside this container over time.
You can also enjoy this higher-proof whiskey by adding water, just like how distillers do it. Adding the right amount of water makes you feel all its complexities and tones, so add it slowly and adjust it according to your taste.
Whiskey According to Location
1. American Whiskeys
American whiskey is more than just bourbon. There are rye, Tennessee, and corn whiskeys, too. Recently, there has been a rise in microdistilleries as well, so whiskeys are made across the country—from New York to California.
American whiskeys are much sweeter with less smokiness, and they're also usually cheaper. Different types of American whiskey have their distinct characteristics, but they all start the same way. They are made from a mixture of corn, rye wheat, and barley aged in charred oak barrels to give it its distinctive flavor.
As for types, there are a few types of American whiskey that you can choose from.
Bourbon / Kentucky
Bourbon is a type of whiskey created with at least 51% corn in the mash bill. Distillers usually use about 70% corn content, and then they choose what grains they're going to include to complete the mash bill. This results in various flavored bourbons, depending on which type of grains are added.
Bourbon is an American classic, but many people are surprised to learn that it can be made anywhere in America. It's not exclusive to Kentucky - though 95% of the world's supply still comes from there. In fact, new bourbon distilleries continue popping up across the country every year, too.
The process of making bourbon is much like the beginning of making sourdough bread. It involves taking the remains from a previous batch and fermenting it overnight, then adding it into a new mash that is on its way through fermentation. Bourbon should be aged for two years or more before bottling. Some, however, take as long as 27 years - talk about commitment!
Tennessee whiskey also has a set of specific requirements when produced within the state. It's typically made out of corn, filtered through charcoal, which gives it its unique mellow flavor. Usually, Tennessee whiskeys undergo a method called Lincoln County Process.
Moreover, an authentic Tennessee Whiskey must be made from a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn. The remaining 49% can come from other grains like barley, rye, or wheat. When distilled, the spirit must never go over 80% alcohol by volume and cannot exceed 125 proof in oak barrels before being bottled. At a minimum, it needs to be bottled at 80 proof. Some even go as high as 125-140 proof.
Barrel aging is the final step of the long process of creating Tennessee whiskey. It needs to be matured in new charred oak barrels, just like bourbon, though there isn't any specific minimum aging requirement for this whiskey type.
2. Irish Whiskey
Irish whiskey is made of unmalted barley blended with grain whiskeys, although single malt Irish whiskey exists.
Like the previous types, Irish whiskey is made exclusively in its region, which is Ireland. The triple distillation process brings out the signature flavor profile of Irish whiskey. The Irish are making waves in the world of spirits with their favorite whiskey, which is gaining popularity all over the globe.
With more brands available than ever before and smoothness that can't be beaten, now's a perfect time to pour yourself or mix up an Irish cocktail!
But for Irish whiskey to be called as such, it needs to have two components. The first is that the spirit must be distilled from a mash of malt and cereal grains in Ireland.
Additionally, only spirits made via pot stills may use this method within Ireland on cereals ordinarily grown there. According to Irish law, Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years in barrels.
Unmalted barley is distilled to produce Irish whiskey, though some brands may include malted barley. It's dried using closed kilns, and the malt does not come into contact with smoke during this process.
The starch used in fermentation can be prepared for conversion to alcohol through additional enzymes. Then, it must be distilled three times in copper pot stills before aging. Some use continuous column stills as well, but grain whiskey uses only pot distillation.
3. Scotch Whisky
Scotch whisky is a world of flavor and tradition. Most people think Scotch whisky must contain only malted barley, but the truth is, many different grains can be used, as long as it contains malted barley. Single malt Scotch whisky, however, must be pot-distilled.
Pot distillation means that more of the flavorful congeners will remain in the spirit. Still, it also makes for a lower yield than column distillation, which allows you to produce more significant quantities of high-quality spirits with less effort and energy required.
For alcohol content matters, Scotch whisky is required to be distilled at a maximum ABV of 94.8%, while bourbon can only go up to 80%. In addition, both have the possibility of being bottled higher than their respective maximums.
One difference between them lies in aging requirements—Scotch whisky must age three years or more, whereas bourbon has no such need. Scotch has a wide range of tastes and flavors, including flowers, fruitcake, heather honey, seaweed brine, walnuts, toffee, dried fruits, and malt.
4. Canadian Whisky
Canadian whisky is defined as a type of spirit made from a cereal grain that's mashed and distilled, and it requires at least three years to age in Canada.
The final step in creating a Canadian whisky is to make sure it has 40% alcohol by volume. This gives the blenders of Canadian whisky a lot more flexibility when trying out new ideas without having too many restrictions holding them back. If the drink follows these guidelines and retains its established character, flavors, and aromas, then you're ready for your first taste!
The history of whiskey in Canada is an interesting one. Before rye was introduced to the wheat mash, Canadians were known for their production of wheat whiskey.
When German and Dutch immigrants arrived, they wanted something more flavorful. Hence, they started adding small amounts of rye grain into the mix, making this new style extremely popular. Thus, leading people to ask for it as "rye" instead of Canadian whisky.
5. Japanese Whisky
Japanese whisky takes after the Scotch tradition, which includes double distilling of malted or peated barley before it's aged in wood barrels. They are generally drier, smokier, and peatier than American bourbons or ryes, which tend to be sweeter. It comes as a single malt or blended variety.
This whisky has much in common with the Scotch tradition, so it follows by leaving out the "e." Japanese whisky is getting progressively popular in the Western world. The first Yamazaki distillery was built near Kyoto around the 1920s, and Japanese whiskies have been sold primarily within Japan throughout most of the 20th century.
Japanese whisky is now being exported to Europe and North America for sale globally due to its increasing popularity.
Types of Whiskey FAQ
1. How to drink whiskey?
There are a few ways to enjoy your whiskey, but one of the simplest is to drink it neat by cleansing your palate with some cool water between sips.
Some people add a few drops of water, which opens up flavors as liquids mix together. With patience, you can try experimenting with whiskey and water. It is the key to finding what works best for you when drinking whiskey straight from the whiskey glass.
2. What is flavored whiskey?
Flavored whiskeys have been added with flavorings to add sparkle to their original taste. Some common flavorings used are honey, apple, and cinnamon. They're primarily made in North America, but a few European versions exist as well.
3. What does peaty whiskey mean?
Peat is a natural mossy accumulation that has been compacted over time from decaying plant material. Peatiness in flavor can vary depending on where and how peat was harvested, but all types provide an unforgettable smoky taste!
Peated whisky has a smoky flavor because it's made using peat, which creates the smoke that coats and flavors the barley malt used to make whiskey. The strength of this taste depends on how long or intensely you roast the malted barley in the peat and what kind of soil was used to produce those ashes for roasting.
There are more types of whiskey than you think. The differences in flavor profiles and textures can be attributed to different production processes and the location where they're made.
They also vary depending on the grain used during distillation and aging periods for the final product. If you learn more about them, you can understand and appreciate them more too.
If you already know about them, then what are your favorite types of whiskey? Let us know in the comments!