Essentially, you can categorize the different types of whisky by location, ingredients, distillation process, storage, and last but not least – taste and aroma. That’s what causes a bit of confusion among casual partakers of liquors and spirits. On store shelves, whiskey is categorized by region, most likely for the sake of providing order to a broad selection, yet other factors play a part as well. So, how many different types of whisky are available? Keep reading to discover the critical distinctions between each variety.
What’s the basic definition of whisky?
Whisky is a high-concentration alcoholic beverage distilled from various grains, such as barley, corn, wheat, and rye. These grains may or may not undergo a malting process, and they may or may not originate from a single distillery. There are also more corporate whisky brands like Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker, but you can also find top-class whisky at independent whisky bottlers throughout the UK.
Generally, the most popular types of whisky include:
- American whisky
- Scotch whisky
- Irish whisky
- Canadian whisky
Other distinctions exist, yet these are the most common ways to sort whiskies.
Different grains, different tastes
Having said that, let’s get into the different grains, which greatly influence a whisky’s tasting notes. Indeed, subtle differences can make massive changes to a whisky’s flavours and scents. If you make whiskey from 100 per cent malted barley, it’s a single malt, but if you use a variety of grains and malts, it’s a blended whiskey.
Furthermore, whiskies break down by whether or not they come from a single distillery. You can make blended whisky at different locations if the final product remains similar. Now, let’s come about to the different types since we’ve established the lesser-known distinctions.
In America, bourbons take centre stage, and distilleries do well nationwide. The recipe for a good bourbon is that it must be at least 51 per cent corn and aged in charred oak barrels. Usually, those barrels are old wine barrels or maple charcoal if the distillery is in Tennessee. You can always tell a bourbon by its sweeter, less smoky characteristics with a subtle hint of vanilla. As Americans like to say, all bourbon is American whiskey, but not all American whiskey is bourdon.
Aside from its location, scotch whisky undergoes a particular fermentation and distillation process. Firstly, a scotch may consist entirely of malted barley made in Scotland. Peat’s rich, bold characteristics impart a cigar-like smokiness to a great Scotch, but a Scotch doesn’t have to be a single-malt. You can blend it too, and by law, you have to age it for a minimum of three years. Notwithstanding those distinctions, you can always tell a Scotch by the wood-like, smokey tasting notes and aromas.
This type of whisky is similar to Scotch, yet it’s different enough to warrant its own category. The difference is that the barley is kiln-dried instead of peat-dried grains like ScotchScotch. There’s also a more thorough distillation process, making Irish whiskey palatable for beginners.
Now, we come to the lighter whiskies, Canadian spirits. While Canadian varieties are pretty similar to American whisky, the distinction is that this type is made from rye grains, not corn or wheat. The tasting notes coincide with bourbon but are much less sweet and “winey” due to a different ageing process. The result is a whisky that’s light enough to sip neat sans ice.
Overall, those whiskies are most popular worldwide, yet other variations exist throughout the world.