What is whiskey made from?

Updated: 24/12/2020
3 mins read
What is whiskey made from?

There are several whiskey types, and each one is made in different ways before ending up as the glorious, brown liquid that we’ve come to love.

But rewind back to before you get to that process; it all starts with the ingredients.

Simply put, whiskey is made from malted grain. However, there’s much more to it than that.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the different types of whiskey and how the ingredients differ from one another.

Scotch Whisky

Famous Grouse Whisky

A traditional Scotch Whisky was once made only from malted barley, but now it’s not uncommon for a Scotch to be made from rye or wheat.

Scotch whiskys also fall into four main categories. 

Let’s explore them below!

Single Malt

While the name suggests a single malt is made from… a single malt, it’s referencing the distillery. Traditionally a single malt would consist entirely of malted barley from a singular distillery. However, now, a single malt must come from a single distillery, but it can be a blend of other single grain whiskies.

Single Grain

A single grain Scotch whisky can consist of multiple grains, but each grain must come from a single distillery.

Blended Malt

A blended malt is a combination of single malts - no grains allowed. Each single malt can be from a different distillery. 


We may have left this until last, but a blended Scotch whisky is the most common type of whiskey you’ll come across. A blended Scotch Whisky consists of both single malt and grain whiskies.

Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

Like Scotch, there are four categories of Irish Whiskey

These are:

Single Malt

A single malt refers to a singular ingredient of malted barley, and production must be at a single distillery.

Single Pot Still

A Single Pot Still comprises of different cereals. One rule is there must be a minimum of 30% malted and a minimum 30% unmalted barley.


An Irish grain whiskey consists of either corn, wheat, barley, or rye. This is the most common Irish whiskey you’ll come across.


A blended Irish whiskey consists of a mixture of single malt whiskeys from the same or different distillery.

American Whiskey

Rye Whiskey Barrel

American whiskeys are composed of a ‘mash,’ which is the mixture of grains used to make the whiskey. If an American whiskey is, for example, named a Rye, the mash must consist of at least 51% of that grain.

Other types of American whiskey include:

  • Rye malt whiskey
  • Corn whiskey
  • Malt whiskey
  • Wheat whiskey

Each of the above is named after, you guessed it, the dominating grain within the mash. 


Jim Beam Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, but unlike the above, the name doesn’t give away its ingredients.

To legally be a bourbon, the mash has to consist of at least 51% of corn. 

Japanese Whisky

Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky is similar to its Scotch cousin as they both rely on malted barley as their dominating ingredient. 

The difference between the two comes down to the smaller quantity of peat used in the production of Japanese whisky.

Wrapping up

So yes, if you were to answer the question ‘what is whiskey made of?’ with ‘malted grain,’ you’d be correct… technically. But there’s much more to it than that. A grain isn’t just a grain. A rye whiskey will taste much different from a corn whiskey!

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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