Whisky or whiskey (American and Irish spelling) can be divided into the following whisky types…
A single malt is the product of one distillery, and may only be produced from malted barley (the starches have been turned to sugar), pure water and yeast. The resulting fermented mash is then distilled in a copper pot still, in batches. This makes single malt whisky more expensive to produce than a grain whisky.
Grain whisky is distilled in a column, or patent still, as opposed to a copper pot still. This is a continuous operation, producing a light, sweet spirit, where any grain is used other than barley. A very small amount of barley is used in the mash bill to trigger fermentation. A single grain whisky must contain a minimum of 51% of the grain specified on the bottle (corn, wheat, rye, or other).
Blended malt (Old terms vatted malt, pure malt)
These are blends of single malt whiskies, with no grain whisky added.
(Old terms vatted grain)
These are blends of various grain whiskies, corn, wheat, rye, and/or others. These are the most popular whisky types, accounting for as much as 80% of all whiskies sold.
A blended whisky is a combination of any number of malt and grain whiskies. They are chosen, then “married” to complement and enhance their flavours. Around 95% of Scotch whisky is sold as blends. An age statement on a whisky blend refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle.
To be recognized as bourbon the whiskey must be matured at less than 80% ABV, and matured in the USA from a mash of no less than 51% corn, then aged for a minimum of 2 years. Nothing is allowed to be added to the spirit that would alter the colour or flavour.
…and further broken down by country and/or region…
A Scotch whisky has to be produced by a Scottish distillery with local water, cereal (mainly malted barley) and yeast, and then matured in used oak casks for a period of no less than 3 years to a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% ABV. Scotch single malt whisky is distilled twice (with the exception of Auchentoshan in the Lowlands, which is triple distilled). The spirit is then matured in an oak cask that previously held bourbon or sherry, or a combination of both. There has been a move recently to “finish” whiskies in casks that had previously held sherry or other spirits, after maturing the whisky in ex-bourbon casks. Peat is used widely in Scotch whisky production, lending the spirit a smoky aroma and taste.There are presently around 90 working distilleries in Scotland.
Irish whiskey is distilled and matured in Ireland for no less than 3 years in a used oak cask. A wide range of cereals is used, which can include rye. The Irish prefer to triple distill their whiskey (to be sure, to be sure, to be sure!), which makes for a lighter, purer spirit, and no peat is used in the process, with the occasional exception.
As for bourbon, but produced in Tennessee, and filtered through a bed of Sugar Maple charcoal.
Japan has been producing whisky since since the 1920’s, and is now producing some of the most sought after whisky in the world. Their whisky is produced in the same way that the Scots produce theirs, under the same categories, with the exception that some of their whisky is matured in Japansese Mizunara oak.
Whisky is now produced all over the globe, with some countries producing excellent examples – most notably Taiwan, Australia, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, France, Germany, India and New Zealand. Micro-distilleries are popping up everywhere and many are producing brilliant examples of handmade whisky, you just need to find them.
Why not pay us a visit for a tutored tasting in our whisky bar?