Types of Whiskey
If you’re new to the drink, you might find it difficult to wrap your head around the different types of whiskey that are out there. Reading the label might be confusing if you don’t know what terms like “single malt” or “Irish” really mean.
Whiskey is made from grain. The grain is fermented and then distilled to create the drink. The taste, aroma, and classification depends on the region where it's produced, the type of grain used to make it, and the distillery process.
In general, whiskey is labeled depending on the composition. The three main types are:
- Single malt, which is made with malted barley, water, and yeast only
- Grain, which includes corn, wheat, or both
- Blended, which is a combination of single malt and grain whiskey
There are four main different types of whiskey. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
1. Scotch whiskey
Scotland is well-known for its high-quality whiskey (or whisky, as it’s spelled there). There is evidence that whiskey was first made in ancient Mesopotamia, reaching Scotland and Ireland as early as the 11th century. Scotland, with its abundance of grain, perfected the art of whiskey production over the next few centuries.
Nowadays, whiskey can only be classified as “Scotch” if it’s single-malt, made in Scotland, and aged for at least three years. Different regions of Scotland produce different kinds of whiskey: some are sweeter, some are more smoky-tasting, and others are fruity.
2. Irish whiskey
Much like Scotland, Ireland produces some of the top whiskey in the world. The difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch is that Irish whiskey tends to be lighter and more fruity. Irish whiskey is generally smoother than other whiskeys, making it pleasant for even newbies to sip neat or have on the rocks.
Irish whiskey is also produced differently to Scotch whiskey: while Scotland uses a double-distillation process, Irish whiskey producers traditionally use a copper pot. Irish whiskey is usually made from a mash of malt and then aged for at least three years.
3. Japanese whiskey
Whiskey production in Japan started in the 1870s, and since then, Japanese distilleries have created an excellent reputation for themselves.
Japanese whiskey is much like Scotch in taste and distillery methods, although certain producers are creating their own distinct styles. It’s often consumed in cocktails.
4. American whiskey
Compared to Irish and Scotch whiskey, American whiskey is sweeter, less smoky, and less peaty, as it's rarely distilled using peat. American whiskey is usually aged in charred barrels.
There are a few different types of American whiskey. These include:
- American single malt, which, like all single-malt whiskeys, is made with only malted barley, water, and yeast
- Bourbon, which is made of at least 51 percent corn mash
- Rye, which contains rye mash
- Wheat, which is made of at least 51 wheat mash
- Tennessee whiskey, which goes through charcoal filtering to mellow the flavor
What is the best type of whiskey?
Whiskey is very subjective: one whiskey-drinker’s favorite drink might not appeal to the next person. Some people might prefer one whiskey neat, and another whiskey in a cocktail. Every person has their own preference of how to drink whiskey - neat, in cocktails, on the rocks, and so on.
For some, whiskeys are an acquired taste, while others find it immediately delightful. The only way to figure out which whiskey you prefer is to experiment by trying different types of whiskey. Take time to absorb the aroma and savor each sip. Consider what you like and don’t like about each taste. This will help you discover which whiskeys you do and don’t enjoy.