Whisky, or whiskey, is a type of alcoholic beverage that’s made of fermented grain mash. Different grains are used for different varieties, which include wheat, barley, rye, and corn. The spirit is usually aged in wooden casks, which are mostly made of charred white oak but can differ depending on the country of origin and type of whiskey.
Whisky is produced in many countries, and in each of them, the spirit has to comply with strict regulations. Because there are different classes and types of liquor, each one has its own unifying characteristics such as grain fermentation, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels.
Types of Whisky / Whiskey
The various types of the spirit are mostly all produced in grain-growing areas. Depending on the distillation process, quality of grains, and aging, they’ll vary in both alcohol content and quality. The spirit is made from malted barley or any other type of grain.
Single malt whisky is a spirit from a single distillery that’s made of mash that uses just one specific malted grain. It can contain whisky from many casks and different years, so the distiller can create the same recognizable signature taste year after year. As a rule of thumb, single malt is named after the distillery, with the number of years it’s aged for. If there is a special treatment to the spirit, like maturation in a port wine cask, for example, that’s also labeled.
Blended malt whisky is a mix of single malts from different distilleries. Although it can be labeled as “pure malt” or simply “malt,” the spirit is almost definitely a blended malt whisky.
Blended whisky is a mix of various types of whisky. Often, a blend can contain spirits from many distilleries, so the final flavour can stay consistent with the brand. Most whisky from Scotland, Ireland and Canada are sold as a part of the blend, even when the products are from one distillery.
Cask strength or barrel proof whiskies are quite special. Only the finest spirits are bottled this way, from the cask undiluted or slightly diluted.
Single cask, or single barrel whiskies are bottled from an individual cask and are labeled with specific bottle and barrel numbers. Unlike blended whisky, for instance, the taste of single cask spirits will vary greatly from cask to cask.
Distilled from the fermented mash of cereal grain, American spirits have the taste and aroma that’s commonly attributed to whiskey. They are to be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume and barreled at 125 proof or less. The final product may be diluted with water, but any colouring or flavouring is prohibited. Also, they must be aged in new charred oak barrels, except for corn whiskey.
Bourbon whiskey consists of 51% or more corn and aged in new charred oak barrels.
Malt whiskey consists of 51% or more malted barley.
Rye whiskey consists of 51% or more rye.
Rye malt whiskey consists of 51% or more malted rye.
Wheat whiskey consists of 51% or more wheat.
Corn whiskey consists of 80% or more corn and is usually not-aged.
If one of the American whiskey types above has been aged for two or more years, it’s also designated as “straight”. If that’s the case, but the whiskey’s been made from multiple grains, without one of them making up 51% of more of the spirit, then it can simply be called “straight whiskey.”
Other whiskey categories, though not as prominent as the ones above, include:
Blended whiskey is a mix of straight whiskey and neutral grain spirits. The spirit is allowed to have flavouring and colouring added to it, but the percentage of NGS has to be stated on the label.
Light whiskey is a category of spirit produced in the States at over 80% ABV and stored in oak containers.
Spirit whiskey is a blend of neutral spirits and 5% or more of other stricter whiskey categories.
Lastly, we’ve almost forgotten one of the world’s most famous categories, Tennessee whiskey. Unlike other American spirits, this one has one extra step, filtering through sugar maple charcoal before aging, which makes the product a little bit sweeter and smoother.
According to Canadian law, all Canadian whisky must be produced in Canada, similar to the laws in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, etc. The spirit has to be distilled from fermented cereal grains and ages for at least three years in wooden barrels. This Canadian spirit category may have caramel, and a bit of flavouring added, and there is virtually no alcohol level limit to it. The lower limit is, however, 40%. Also, the whiskey shall not contain more than 9.09% of any imported spirits.
The most famous brands are Crown Royal, Wiser’s and Canadian Club.
Alcoholic beverages that are called “whisky” in India are often neutral spirits distilled from fermented molasses with a small addition of traditional whisky.
Fairly recently, a few distilleries have actually started making whisky that’s actually distilled from malt and other grains. A good example of this is Amrut, the first-ever and world-famous single malt whiskey produced in India.
Irish whiskey is known for being distilled three times, which makes the spirit a notch smoother. Similar to Scottish whisky, there are single malt and blended types. Irish whiskey used to be one of the most popular liquors in the world, up until the late 19th century. After that, the spirit industry had not recovered for over 100 years, and now slowly getting back into the race in the 1990s. Since then, Irish whiskey has been the fastest growing spirit across the globe.
The spirits have to be aged in wooden casks for at least three years, though most distilleries As of now, Ireland has over twenty-five distilleries operating, with over 20 new ones under construction. You can definitely tell that the industry is recovering rapidly.
Japan may not be as famous as Scotland or Ireland, but they make outstanding single malt and blended whiskies. The base is just malted barley that’s dried in kilns fired with a little peat. Until the year 2000, there were few exports, and most whisky made in Japan was sold and consumed domestically.
Luckily for whisky lovers, you can now buy the world famous and award winning Suntory and Nikka Japanese whisky in any liquor store!
This type of whisky is made in Scotland and generally distilled twice. If you see the bottle labeled “Scotch,” it’s safe to assume it’s been distilled in Scotland and matured for at least three years. Of course, there are other criteria, as well. Any age statement on a selected bottle of Scotch whisky indicated the youngest scotch whisky used in the blend. If there is no age on the bottle, the spirit has to be, by law, at least three years old.
As you can see, the world of whisky is as vast and complex as you want it to be. Luckily for spirit enthusiasts, there is a lot of good stuff to try and choose from! If you’d like to buy a bottle of scotch, bourbon, etc., you can buy whisky at ZYN the retail liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or shop online at ZYN.ca!