In the vast world of whiskeys, it actually has a lot of classifications styles and origins such as Bourbon, Scotch and rye whiskey; and all of these may be difficult to differentiate, especially for those who are new to these terms. What is the difference between whisky and whiskey? What are single malts and blends? Here is a comprehensive guide to the origin and meaning of whisk(e)ys.
First and foremost, let us know what whisky and whiskey are. There is actually no difference between the two. The general rule is that if the liquor is made in Canada, Japan, or Scotland; it is spelled as “whisky”. However, if it is from Ireland and United States, it is spelled as “whiskey”. But still, Maker’s Mark and Old Forester are made in America but they label themselves as “whisky”. Therefore, the spellings don’t matter at all.
When people hear about American whiskey, they immediately think “bourbon”; however, it is actually more than that.
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made up of approximately 51% of corn; it is aged in new oak barrels that are charred. The rule that bourbon should rest only in new oak barrels is primarily the reason why bourbon barrels are used to age Scotch and other products. There is a popular belief that bourbon is made in Kentucky; in contrast to that, it can actually be produced in any state of the US.
Bonded whiskey, otherwise known as “bottled in bond”, is a type of American whiskey that is made at a particular distillery during a specific season. It requires to be aged for a minimum of 4 years and to be bottled at 50% ABV.
The moonshine whiskey is not just any other white whiskey. It is said to be produced illegally. It is un-aged and is typically made from corn or mostly corn; sugar and other grains may also be included to the solution.
The American rye whiskey contains at least 51% rye. The process of aging is just like that of the bourbon’s.
Straight whiskey is typically just any American whiskey that has been aged for at least 2 years. They do not have any colorings or flavorings. The age of this type of whiskey should be listed on its label especially those less than 4 years. If it is used to make rye or bourbon, it should be able to qualify to its standards in order to be included in its classification.
According to the law, Tennessee whiskey should be produced and made in Tennessee and that it should also meet the standards of the bourbon. The difference between bourbon and this type is that before aging Tennessee whiskeys, it undergoes an additional process called the “Lincoln County Process”. The most popular example for this classification is Jack Daniel’s.
Undefined American Whiskey
With a lot of craft distilleries opening in various places in the United States today, they produce different types of whiskeys that don’t actually qualify as being a bourbon or rye. Thus, they fall under the “undefined” category.
Canadian whisky, also called as “rye whisky”, may not contain any rye at all; thus it doesn’t meet the standards of the American rye in which it must contain at least 51% of rye. This liquor is popular for its rye flavoring and profile. In fact, most of the Canadian whisky currently sold in the market contains mostly of corn rather than rye.
The rye whisky is made by mixing a small portion of all-rye or rye heavy whisky which creates a mixture of bourbon-style whiskies and other types of grain whiskies. They are usually aged for at least 3 years using wooden barrels.
Scotland whisky, popularly known as “Scotch”, is aged for at least 3 years using an oak barrel. Currently, most Scotch sold today is aged in used bourbon barrels with sherry and used casks. They are distilled twice and they fall into several categories.
Scotch whiskies that are made up of single malt means that it is merely prepared from malted barley. They are produced alone in one distillery.
Blended malt whisky is a mixture of 2 or more single malt scotches that are made from various distilleries.
Like single malt, single grain whiskies are made from only one distillery. However, it contains extra grains aside from malted barley. This type of scotch is considered uncommon primarily because most of which are used in blends.
Blended grain whisky is made up of many single grain whiskies made from various distilleries. This is also considered to be a rare type of scotch.
Blended scotch is the most popular type of scotch that is sold throughout the world. It is primarily a blend of one or more single malts mixed with one or more single grains.
Scotch whiskies are made not only in a single region of Scotland. It is made in various regions which include:
The Speyside has the most number of distilleries among the scotch regions; it has approximately 50% of the country’s total distilleries. Some of the popular brands are made in this region including Aberlour and Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and The Glenlivet.
The Islay region is known for its big, smoky, peaty, and salty whisky. It is home to a total of 8 distilleries such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin, and Kilchoman.
The region of Campbeltown is said to be a past relic as it is once a home to many distilleries. Today, there are only 3 distilleries operating in the area.
Lowlands, like the Campbeltown region, is also a past relic as there are only several remaining distilleries that are operating in this region.
Geographically, Highlands is the largest among the scotch regions. It is home to various distilleries which include Oban, Old Pulteney, Glenmorangie, and The Macallan.
The Islands region is an unofficial region. It represents all the islands of Scotland except for the Islay. Some of the distilleries that are within this region are the Arran, Highland Park, and Talisker.
One of the many reasons why Ireland is among the popular tourist destination is because of its distilleries. Like the scotch whiskeys, Irish whiskeys are aged for at least 3 years. However, there are a lot of differences between the two. Take for example, majority of the Irish whiskeys available on the market today are distilled three times while scotch whiskeys are distilled only twice. Another is that distillers in Ireland pour enzymes to the whiskey in order to turn starches into sugar before the fermentation process begins.
The classifications of whiskeys in Ireland are less complicated compared to that of Scotland. However, Irish distillers also use the term “blended” to those products that have two or more whiskeys that are distilled separately. The Blended Irish whiskey is what is usually found in the market today.
Single pot still whiskey, on the other hand, is a class of Irish whiskey that is made in one distillery using a pot still; mixing barleys that are malted and un-malted.
Today, there are only 10 distilleries operating in Ireland; seven of which were only established in the last decade. The popular old distilleries that can be found in the country is the Old Bushmills that opened in 1784 and is actually the oldest licensed distillery worldwide; the New Midleton Distillery that was established in 1975 and is the maker of Jameson, Midleton, Powers, and Paddy; and the Cooley Distillery that was established in 1987.
Japan & World Whisky
For the past 5 years, whiskies from Japan have been increasingly popular throughout the world. Japanese whisky originated in the early 1920s when Masataka Taketsuru went back to Japan from Scotland after studying distilling. Having learned the art of making whisky, he introduced whiskies to the Japanese market by selling notable Japanese whisky brands such as Yamazaki, Nikka, Hibiki, and Hakushu.
Japanese Whiskies are prepared according to how Scotch is made; therefore, they are also classified into several categories such as single malts and blended whiskies. But, it is entirely wrong to classify scotch and Japanese whisky into one category or that Japanese whiskies aren’t original.
What makes them different is that distilleries in Japan produce a wide variety of styles and make different stills, mash bills, and whisky profiles, thereby creating its own unique blend. Distilleries in Scotland, on the other hand, produce only one variety of single malt.
There are other distilleries that make whiskies anywhere in the world; from South Africa to Sweden; England to Thailand; India to Australia; and basically at any places in between.
Whiskey Terminologies that you Should Know
Age. If you can find an age written in the bottle of whiskey, it typically refers to the age of the youngest whiskey ingredient in the bottle.
Cask Proof Whiskey. Cask proof whiskey, also called “cask strength”, is a bottle that came straight from the barrel itself. Thus, this implies that the distiller didn’t mix any water to bring the whiskey down to a pre-determined level. It doesn’t only have a higher ABV, but it also has a richer and fuller flavor primarily because it is undiluted. Pour a few drops of water into it to self-dilute and you’ll open the flavor profile of the whiskey.
Continuous Still. Continuous still, also referred to as “column still”, “patent still”, or “coffey still”, are generally said to be consistent and efficient. They continuously operate without batches.
Finishing. Finishing is the taking of the whiskey after it has been aged and aging it for the second time — which is usually for a shorter period using a different cask, thereby producing different flavors.
Mash Bill. This primarily refers to the amount of grains that is used in a class of whiskey. Single malt scotch contains 100% malted barley; while the mash bill of bourbon has at least 51% of corn.
NAS. This is an acronym for “No Age Statement Whiskey”.
Pot Still. Pot stills are a traditional way of distilling whiskies. It makes use of a large pot section of the still that is heated which typically sends vapor to a condenser in order to be separated.
Sour Mash. This is a process where the used mash from a previous fermentation process is utilized to aid in starting the fermentation procedure of the next batch. This helps in controlling fermentation and keeping the consistency of the product.
Sourcing. It generally refers to a company that purchased whiskeys that are made from other distilleries and then bottling and labeling it under its name.