Types of whiskey

20/11/2020
Updated: 24/12/2020
4 mins read
Types of whiskey

Do you know your bourbon from your scotch? Do you understand what gives different whiskeys their distinctive flavors?

If you have ever glanced at the shelves of whiskey in a store or behind a well-stocked bar, you’ll realize that there are several different types of whiskey out there. But which one is the right one for your tastes?

In this article, we’ll examine the different whiskey types and get to grips with what makes them different from each other. 

Whiskey Varieties: How many are there?

There are nine different types of whiskey variety. These include: 

Let’s explore each of these in more depth. 

Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky (spelled without an ‘e’) is from Scotland. Scotch is made using either malt or grain. Scotch is very popular, with 1.9 billion bottles exported to 180 different markets.  Scotland takes its whisky-making very seriously, and there are rules that distillers must abide by, mainly:

  • The whisky needs to age in an oak barrel for at least three years. 
  • Each bottle needs to have a statement about its age using the youngest aged whisky in the blend.

Scotch is best drunk neat, but really, how you drink it is up to you

Scotch whisky on glasses

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey has a much smoother taste to it than many other types of whiskey. It is either made from malt or mash and can only be distilled using caramel coloring and water. All Irish Whiskey is distilled in wooden casks for at least three years, producing a whiskey that is easy to drink neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon is American Whiskey produced using corn. To be classed as bourbon, it needs to be made from at least 51% corn. It also needs to be made in the United States and be aged in a new oak barrel. There is no minimum aging period; however, it does need to be bottled at least 80 proof. 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky. 

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is actually classified as bourbon; however, some distillers don’t like this classification. 

Instead, they prefer the term Tennessee whiskey.

Currently, all producers of Tennessee whiskey by law need to produce their whiskey in Tennessee, as you’d expect!

They also need to use a filtration step called the Lincoln County Process before the whiskey is aged.  The most popular Tennessee whiskey is one I’m sure you would have come across before named Jack Daniels. 

Rye Whiskey

Made in America and containing at least 51% rye, rye whiskey may also have other ingredients such as barley or corn. Rye Whiskey follows the same distillation process that bourbon does.

Any rye that has been aged for at least two years and is not blended is referred to as ‘straight rye whiskey.’ In terms of flavor, rye tends to be spicier than the smoother and sweeter bourbon. 

Rye whiskey on glass

Japanese Whisky

Although Japan has not been making whisky as long as Scotland may have, they have a strong reputation worldwide for producing fine whisky. Japanese whisky is close to scotch and uses very similar distillation processes. It is mostly drunk with a mixer or a touch of soda water. 

Canadian Whisky

In much the same way as Scotch, Canadian whisky needs to be aged in a barrel for three years or more. Most Canadian whisky is made from corn or rye; however, some will include barley or wheat. It is a lighter and smoother whisky in comparison to other whiskies. 

Blended Whiskey

Blended whiskey contains a mixture of different types of whiskey. The process involved in making blended whiskey allows the flavors to shine through while keeping the price low. This type of whiskey is ideal for use in cocktails. 

Single Malt Whisky 

Single malt whisky is made from a single batch of scotch from just one distillery. Single malt whisky must also be aged for three years in an oak barrel before it is bottled. The name ‘single’ malt refers to the ingredients used. The main ingredient is malted barley. However, for American single malts, rules may differ as a single malt in the states is often made from rye instead of barley. 

Monkey shoulder blended malt scotch whisky on a glass

Compare whiskey types

The various whiskies differ considerably in taste. Some are smooth, some have a peaty taste, while others may have more of a spice. The distillation process, along with the ingredients used, will make for different flavors. If you’re looking for comparisons, here are some popular ones:

Whiskey flavor profiles

There are several different flavor profiles associated with whiskey. These include: 

  • Elegant and floral
  • Peat and fruit 
  • Malt and honey
  • Rich fruit and spice
  • Rich and peaty
  • Maritime and smoky 

Some examples of whiskies that may fit these flavor profiles include: 

Different whiskey flavor on glasses

Elegant and floral 

If you want to enjoy your whiskey earlier in the day or as an aperitif, then you’ll want something a little lighter. Cutty Sark, Ballantines finest, and J&B Rare are all fine examples of a more elegant whiskey. 

Peat and fruit 

Examples of whiskey that matches this taste profile include Johnny Walker Black Label, Johnny Walker Sweet Peat, and Big Peat. 

Fresh fruit and vanilla 

Again, if you are looking for a whiskey that will make for an excellent aperitif, you will want to go for something lighter. These crisp whiskies have notes of fresh fruit and vanilla- Tullamore Dew, Kentucky Old Reserve, and Dewar’s white label. 

Malt and honey

With notes of toffee, whiskies that match this profile include Jamesons, Jack Daniels, and Kilbeggan. 

Rich fruit and spice

Delicious after dinner, these are whiskies that match this profile: Jim Beam Double Oak, Glen Moray Port Cask Finish, and Bulliet. 

Rich and peaty

If you are looking for a full-flavored whiskey, look no further than Laphroaig, Johnny Walker Double Black, and Port Askaig. 

Maritime and smoky 

Many whiskies fall into this category with the tang of sea mist, including Glen Moray Peated, Mcnamara Gaelic, and Highland Park.

By 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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