Confused by whiskey? It’s okay if you are. Don’t feel badly, you’re not an idiot or anything. There’s a lot of different whisk(e)y out there to choose from. What makes Scotch whisky different from bourbon? Irish whiskey from rye? Of Iron and Oak compiled a simple breakdown of all the different types of whisk(e)y out there to get your life in order. No need to thank me, I’m here to help. But tips are appreciated.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS WHISKEY?
Let’s keep it simple. A true whiskey is any booze distilled from some sort of fermented grain mash including malted barley, corn, rye or a combination of these grains. A true whiskey must also be distilled at a minimum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). There’s a lot of different rules and jargon involved in making the five main sub-genres of whiskey – scotch, irish whiskey, rye, bourbon and tennessee whiskey — so try to keep up, champ.
UH…SO WHAT’S SCOTCH?
All whisky’s (Yeah. Sometimes people spell whiskey differently. Get over it, and read on for further details.) must be made from a fermented grain mash, right? So, put simply, Scotch is made from malted barley. Most Scotches are made from just barley, water and yeast.
The drink must also endure a vigorous aging process. Scotch has to be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years with an ABV of less than 94.8%. The last defining character of a true Scotch is it’s origin. If it wasn’t made in Scotland, it’s not a true Scotch, sir. You follow me?
Diving even deeper into Scotch, you’re provided with the option of either single malt or blended Scotches. A single malt scotch is made from a single batch of whiskey while a blended Scotch is made from a mixture of batches.
COOL. SO WHAT’S IRISH WHISKEY THEN?
Irish Whiskey is a bit like scotch in that it has to be made with an ABV of less than 94.8% and aged for at least three years in wooden casks, although the type of wood doesn’t matter with Irish whiskey.
Fortunately, the rules pertaining to the making of Irish whiskey are less rigid, allowing for a larger variety of Irish whiskies. Also, similar to scotch, Irish whiskey can only be considered Irish Whiskey if it was distilled in Ireland. No shit, right?
ALRIGHT. SO HOW ABOUT RYE?!
Apparently, Canada has been distilling rye for roughly 150 years, hence Canadian whisky. (More odd spelling of the word. Read on for further details.) However, over the years, Canadians seem to have dropped the ball on distilling their rye with actual rye mash. It appears that, in Canada, the only rule to distilling rye is to have somerye mash in it. Canadian rye is sometimes distilled with 9x more corn mash than rye mash.
In America, however, rye must be made with no less than 51% rye mash. It must also be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels and distilled to an ABV less than 80%. To be considered Straight Rye, it must also be aged for a minimum of two years.
Recommended Brands: Bulleit
RYE SOUNDS GOOD! BUT WHAT ABOUT BOURBON?
Ah. My personal favorite. Bourbon is similar to rye in that it must be distilled to an ABV less than 80% and also must be aged in brand new, charred oak barrels. Also, whereas bourbon has no minimum aging restriction, it can also only be considered Straight Bourbon if it was aged for no less than two years. It also cannot include any coloring or flavoring.
The only real difference between rye and bourbon is that instead of 51% rye, bourbon must be distilled with at least 51% corn. Additionally, bourbon’s fermentation process includes a method in which the the distiller begins by mixing in some mash from an older, already fermented batch. This process is called “sour mash” and it’s bad ass.
Lastly, bourbon can only be considered bourbon if it’s made in the United States, primarily Kentucky. America. Fuck yeah!
WELL, DAMN! BOURBON SOUNDS GREAT! BUT WHAT ABOUT TENNESSEE WHISKEY?!
Good news! Tennessee Whiskey is almost the same as Bourbon! Cheers! Jack Daniels, the main producer of Tennessee Whiskey, doesn’t want their product labeled as Bourbon because they’re the only type of whiskey that filters their product through thick maple charcoal before aging it in charred oak barrels.
Additionally, of course, Tennessee whiskey can only be considered Tennessee whiskey if it was made in Tennessee. However, other than that, Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon are the same thing!
Recommended Brand: Jack Daniels
THAT’S AWESOME! ANY OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION?!
Well, yes. The word whiskey itself is of Celtic origin, as the distilling practices originated in Ireland and Scotland. Most Scotch inspired drinks usually spell whisky differently, dropping they “e” whereas Irish and American whiskies spell it with the “e”. Apparently, according toGrammarist.com, using whiskey in reference to Scotch can get you in pretty big trouble in Scotland. So get it straight because who really wants to brawl with William Wallace from Braveheart anyway?