Types of Whiskey: Know Your Alcohol

Whiskey is a complex drink with a long history. In fact, whiskey’s history began over 1,000 years ago, when distillation reached Scotland and Ireland. From that time on, different types of whiskey have been distilled all around the world.

As of today, whiskey is still considered one of the most loved alcoholic drinks by experts and even casual drinkers. Although many people love a glass of whiskey from time to time, only a few actually know the difference between each type. Let’s dig in.

Key Points

  • What Is Whiskey?
  • Is It Whiskey or Whisky?
  • Types of Whiskey
    • Irish Whiskey
    • Canadian Whisky
    • Japanese Whisky
    • Scotch Whisky
    • American Whiskey
  • What Is the Strongest Whiskey?
  • Key Takeaways

What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash, including barley, rye, wheat, and corn. In most cases, the whisky needs to age in a wooden cask, generally made from oak.

This beverage is consumed all around the world, but Ireland, Scotland, and the US are the most popular producers of whiskey. As of today, the world’s most-known whiskey brands are Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, and Maker’s Mark. Whiskey can also be found in some cocktails, such as the Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

Is It Whiskey or Whisky?

You have probably encountered both spellings of whiskey and wondered which is the proper way to spell it. It turns out that the answer is more complicated than expected.

If a spirit has been distilled in either Ireland or the US, the proper spelling is whiskey. Alternatively, this term is spelled without the “e” for drinks that are from Scotland, Canada, and Japan.

Types of Whiskey

Now that we shed light on the definition and spelling of whiskey, it’s time to break down whiskey by classification. These regional spirits come with different and unique distillation processes. Let’s take a closer look.

Irish Whiskey

Ireland was indeed the first country to ever define whiskey. This word comes from the Irish “uisce beatha,” which can be translated to “water of life.”

Irish whiskey can only be distilled and aged in the Ireland isle. While Ireland has always been the leading country for whiskey, its popularity started to decline in the late 19th century. The spread of this distillation technique caused Irish distilleries to be purchased by Irish Distillers in 1972.

Before being consumed, Irish whiskey gets distilled with water and caramel coloring, and then matured in oak barrels for three years.

Canadian Whisky

The best kind of Canadian whiskey is made from a mix of multi-grain liquors. This kind of whisky contains a high percentage of corn mash, which often makes it much lighter and less flavorful than the American style.

In addition, Canadians were actually the first ones to ever introduce blending rye grains in the mash.

Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky was born as a result of mimicking the unique flavor of scotch. Not only did they try to achieve a similar flavor, but they also imitated similar distillation techniques. The distillation of Japanese whisky started in the 1920s and is still popular in today’s market. Some of the top-notch Japanese brands include Suntory, Nikka, and Yamazaki.

Scotch Whisky

In the beginning, all scotch was made from malted barley. However, things changed in the late 18th century, when many Scottish distilleries introduced wheat and rye.

Similar to other kinds of whiskies, scotch must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks. Scotch whisky is typically full-bodied and smoky in flavor. Scotch can also be broken down into five categories:

  • Single malt whisky comes from a single distillery and must be made from malted barley and distilled using pot stills.
  • Single grain whisky is distilled in a single location and can include whole grains and unmalted cereals in their water and malted barley mix.
  • Blended whisky contains a blend of single grain whisky or single malt whisky.
  • Blended malt whisky is a combination of at least two distinct single malt scotches from separate distilleries.
  • Blended grain whisky is a mix of at least two distinct single grain scotches from separate distilleries.

American Whiskey

When thinking about American whiskey, the first thing that comes to mind is a big name such as Jack Daniel’s.

American whiskey is mostly produced by using cereal grains in its mixture. If you compare them to European whiskies, you may notice that drinks produced in the US contain artificial colorings and flavorings.

Let’s take a closer look at the most popular American whiskies:

  • Bourbon whiskey is made from a mash of at least 51% corn.
  • Corn whiskey is a strong spirit that includes at least 80% corn in the mash.
  • Malt whiskey uses at least 51% of malted barley in the mixture.
  • Rye whiskey is made from a mash of at least 51% rye.
  • Wheat whiskey contains about 51% wheat in the mash.

What Is the Strongest Whiskey?

The world’s strongest whiskey known to date is the Bruichladdich X4+1 Quadrupled whisky, which contains 92% alcohol (184 proof). Due to its extremely precise distillation process, it’s not a surprise this whiskey has such a high level of purity.

Types of Whiskey: Key Takeaways

  • Whiskey originates in Ireland. In fact, the term “whiskey” comes from the Irish “uisce beatha,” which translates to “water of life.”
  • The most common types of whiskey are Irish whiskey, Canadian whisky, Scotch whisky, Japanese whisky, and American whiskey.
  • Both “whiskey” and “whisky” are correct spellings. “Whiskey” refers to the drink produced in Ireland and the US, while “whisky” is used by Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese producers.
  • Whiskey is generally made from a fermented mash of grains and must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks.
  • The world’s strongest whiskey is Bruichladdich X4+1 Quadrupled whisky, which stands at 92% alcohol (184 proof).