What does whiskey taste like?

Updated: 21/06/2021
4 mins read
What does whiskey taste like?

One whiskey can be unique to another. You can experience flavors ranging from smoky to sweet, spicy, smooth, and everything in between.

The flavor of whiskey entirely depends on the type of whiskey and how its made

Whiskey vs. Whisky

First of all, let's address the actual spelling of whiskey!

Whiskey is generally spelled with an 'E.' However, both Scotch and Japanese whisky are commonly spelled without the 'E'.

Whether the drink goes by whiskey or whisky, they are still part of the same family.

Now we've got that out of the way, let's jump into the various whiskey types and what makes them different!

What are the different types of whiskey?

There are several varieties of whiskey to enjoy. Some of the most popular include:

In this article, we'll look at each of these whiskeys and understand what makes them unique and the flavors you can expect to experience from them.

So without further ado, let's dive in!  

Scotch Whisky 


Scotch Whisky is a grain or malt whiskey that is traditionally made from water and malted barley; by law, it has to be produced in, you guessed it, Scotland.

Scotch whisky is processed in a single distillery, maturing in oak casks for at least three years, and is fermented by adding only yeast.

There are several different types of Scotch whisky. These include:

  • Single malt Scotch whisky is distilled at a single distillery using only water and barley.
  • Single grain Scotch whisky is distilled at a single distillery using any grain, which typically includes rye, corn, or wheat.
  • Blended Scotch whisky is when two or more single malt scotch whiskies and single grain scotch whiskies are mixed together.
  • Blended malt Scotch whisky is when two or more single malt scotch whiskies are merged together from different distilleries.
  • Blended grain Scotch whisky is when two or more single grain scotch whiskies have been blended from different distilleries.

Scotch whisky is a grain or malt whiskey traditionally made from water and malted barley; by law, it has to be produced in, you guessed it, Scotland.

What does Scotch whisky taste like?

The flavor of whiskey will vary depending on the grains used and the different techniques each distillery uses.

Scotch whisky taste notes commonly include:

  • Tobacco
  • Vanilla
  • Leather
  • Wood
  • Nuts
  • Honey
  • Caramel
  • Smokey
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy

 Irish Whiskey

bushmill distillery

Irish Whiskey is usually made from unmalted barley, and a mixture of other grains and production must take place in Ireland. Unlike its Scotch brother, it is triple distilled, resulting in a smoother drink. 

There are several types of Irish whiskey, including:

  • Single malt Irish whiskey is distilled at a single distillery using only malted barley
  • Single pot still whiskey is distilled at a single distillery using a mash of malted and unmalted barley in a pot still.
  • Grain whiskey is made from using either barley, rye, corn, wheat.
  • Blended whiskey is made from a blend of different single malt whiskeys from either the same or different distilleries.

What does Irish whiskey taste like?

Irish Whiskey is often on the fruity and sweet side with notes lighter than those in Scotch whisky. 

Typical taste notes include:

  • Orchard fruits
  • Honey
  • Vanilla
  • Pepper
  • Brown Sugar
  • Caramel
  • Cinnamon



Bourbon is a type of American whiskey made from a mash that is at least 51% of corn; the other grains typically include rye, wheat, or malted barley. The mash must contain no additives and be distilled at 160 proof in charred new oak barrels. 95% of bourbon production occurs in Kentucky, but this isn’t a legal requirement, and any American states can make it.

What does Bourbon taste like?

Bourbons are typically sweeter than their Scotch and Irish cousins. It’s not uncommon to detect a smokey flavor down to the charred oak barrels that age the bourbon.

Typical bourbon taste notes are:

  • Vanilla
  • Toffee
  • Caramel
  • Oak
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Nuts  

Rye Whiskey

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is similar to bourbon, but must consist of at least 51% rye. The rest of the mash typically contains barley or corn. Like bourbon, rye whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels for at least two years.

What does Rye Whiskey taste like?

Rye whiskey tastes like a tougher version of bourbon. Think spicier, grainier, and savory. Rye whiskey and bourbon share a similar production method, but the different grains are enough to give them two entirely different tastes.

Taste notes of Rye whiskey include:

  • Wood
  • Pepper
  • Buttery rye
  • Spicy
  • Vanilla
  • Caramel

Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky 2 1

Japanese whisky originates from Japan but is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world, primarily Europe and America. 

Similar to Scotch, the main ingredient of Japanese whisky is malted barley. Japanese whisky is produced in a similar way to Scotch, is distilled twice and wood-aged. It’s also common for the malted barley to be imported from Scotland.

What does Japanese whisky taste like?

Japanese whisky is more similar to Scotch than any other whiskey, as it relies heavily on malted barley.

Typical taste notes in Japanese whisky are:

  • Oak
  • Honey
  • Cooked fruit
  • Spices
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Spice

Wrapping up

So there you have it! A concise flavor guide to five different types of whiskey. Now you’ve learned that one whiskey differs from another, next time one isn’t for you, don’t close yourself off to the world of whiskey completely! A smokey Scotch might not be for you,  but perhaps a smooth, caramel bourbon will tickle your taste buds instead.

Ashleigh Cain

Ashleigh is a key part of the editorial team at Whiskey Rocks. You'll often find her either writing educational articles or reviewing the latest artisan whiskeys. Her favorite drink? Ashleigh loves smokey scotches like Laphroaig, but you'll also often find her with an old fashioned in hand.

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