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May 24, 2022 6 min read


Whiskey or Whisky (depending on where it's made) is a drink that has a lot of sentimental value for many people, especially in Scotland, where the roots of whiskey are a big part of their history. Whiskey is derived from the Scottish Galic term "uisce beatha," which means "water of life." This was later abbreviated to "uisce" (pronounced Ooo-SKI) before being shortened to "whiskey."

Below, we'll learn how whiskey is made and the 9 different types of whiskeys:


How Is Whiskey Made?


Whiskey production varies depending on the style, the country of origin, and other considerations, but in most cases, the overall procedure remains the same.




A area where malting is in process to make whisky



All whiskey begins as a raw grain. In the case of malt whisky, barley must be processed in a unique way to access its sugars. The barley is wet and allowed to partially sprout, or germinate, in a process known as malting, which results in the secretion of an enzyme that transforms the starches in the barley into sugars. When the barley is dried by heating, the germination stops.




A man stirring a vat where the fermentation process takes place to make whisky

Credit: American Distilling Institute


Before fermentation, the sugars in the grain must be removed, which is accomplished by mashing. The grains, such as corn, wheat, or rye, are ground up and stirred in a big tank (called a mash tun or tub) with boiling water. Even if the distiller isn't manufacturing malt whisky, some ground malted barley is usually included to aid in the conversion of starches to sugars. The finished product resembles oatmeal. The mixture—now called mash or wort (if filtered of solids)—moves on to the fermentation stage. 




The fermentation procedure has started taking place in a huge vat



When the mash/wort comes into contact with yeast, the yeast consumes all of the sugars in the liquid and changes them to alcohol. This takes place in massive vats known as washbacks. The procedure can take anywhere from 48 to 96 hours, depending on the yeast strains used and the fermentation time. This results in a wide range of flavors. Before going into the still, the resulting beer-like liquid, known as distiller's beer or wash, has an ABV of roughly 7% to 10%.




A room of copper stills to help raise the alcohol percentage in the liquid

Credit: The Whisky Store


Distillation raises the alcohol percentage of a liquid while also releasing volatile components. Stills are instruments that are typically built of copper, which aids in the removal of undesirable flavor and aroma components from alcohol. Pot stills and column stills are the two most prevalent types of stills. 


1) Pot Still Distillation

Pot stills are employed in the production of whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Japan, and other countries. Pot still distillation is a batch process. Some styles are triple-distilled, while others are double-distilled.


2) Column Still Distillation

Column stills are used to make bourbon, rye, and other American whiskeys, as well as grain whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan, and other parts of the world. The column continues to operate continuously and efficiently, eliminating the need for pot stills to operate in batches.




Wooden oak barrels holding whiskey that is maturing



Almost all whiskies are matured in wooden barrels, most commonly oak. Corn whiskey, which can be aged or unaged, is one prominent exception. Bourbon, rye, and other forms of American whiskey must be matured in new charred oak barrels, although other countries' styles allow the manufacturer to choose the type of oak and its prior use. Barrels are kept in warehouses, and as the whiskey ages, some of the alcohol evaporates: this is known as the angels' share, and it gives the warehouse a distinct (and pleasant) smell.




Bottles being filled with whiskey that has been matured and now ready to be sold

Credit: Whisky Advocate


Whiskey is bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV after maturation. To prevent the whiskey from turning hazy when cold water or ice is added, it may be chill-filtered or filtered in another way.


Types of Whiskey


Some glasses of golden colored whiskey waiting to be consumed

Credit: itor/Shutterstock


So, without further ado, here are the 9 types of whiskey you should know:


1) Irish Whiskey


Irish whiskey is smoother compared to other types of whiskey. It's created from a malt mash, can only be distilled with water and caramel coloring, and must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. The result is a whiskey that can be drunk neat or on the rocks, but it's also great in cocktails.


2) Scotch Whisky


Scotch whisky, by tradition and standard, is spelled without the "e" and can only be produced in Scotland. The malt drying process gives this whisky its distinctive smoky flavor. Part of this is done over a peat-fueled fire, allowing the smoke to reach the malt directly.

Although scotch is defined by its smoky flavor, each location in Scotland creates various flavor qualities. This is especially noticeable in single malts.


3) Bourbon Whiskey


Bourbon is a whiskey made with at least 51% corn in the mash. Bourbon does not have to be brewed in Kentucky to be named bourbon, contrary to common assumption.

Bourbon must not exceed more than 80% ABV (160 proof) in the mash, and must not have more than 62.5% ABV (125 proof) in maturation barrels. Bourbon offers more variety and choice than any other whiskey category, and while it was originally considered good value for money (particularly when compared to more expensive scotch whisky), the price of bourbon has grown substantially in recent years.


4) Canadian Whisky


Canadian whisky must be produced and aged in Canada, have a minimum ABV of 40%, and must be aged in hardwood barrels no larger than 700 liters for at least three years. Caramel and other flavorings or additions can be found in Canadian whisky, resulting in a wide range of flavors.


5) Tennessee Whiskey


Tennessee Whiskey is not a legally defined whiskey style, but rather a location-based whiskey style. Tennessee whiskey is a little more complex than Bourbon, with the Lincoln County process added on. The added step of passing the distillate through charcoal filters or chips before entering the maturation barrels helps to smooth out the harsh taste. Tennessee whiskey is made from 51-79% maize, as well as wheat, barley, and rye fillers.


6) Rye Whiskey


Rye whiskey is manufactured with a majority of rye, or at least 51% of the grain bill, and is the closest cousin of bourbon. Unlike bourbon, which is largely produced in the American south, rye is grown in the northern United States.

Straight rye whiskey refers to rye whiskey that has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits before bottling. It's also been aged in new, charred barrels and can't be more than 160 proof (which is very uncommon, as most ryes, like bourbons, end up around 40% ABV). Rye is a little more spicy or peppery in taste. 


7) Japanese Whisky


Japanese whisky, maybe the most fascinating whisky subcategory. It's only a few years old, having been developed in the late 1800s. There's a lot of blending that goes on. It also involves imported grains or fermented grains from other places, like Scotland. Japanese whisky is heavily influenced by Scotch, and the present generation of distillers is particularly interested in highlighting the location, temperature, ingredients, etc. in their spirits. This is a category to keep an eye on over the next few years.


8) Blended Whiskey


Blended whiskey is a blend of straight whiskeys and grain spirits that have been carefully chosen to create a unique spirit. For cocktail recipes that don't mention a style, this is another good whiskey alternative.

At least 20% of a blended whiskey must be straight whiskey. Up to 75 distinct straight whiskeys and grain-neutral spirits may be found in premium brands. This blending technique results in a whiskey that is well-balanced, rich, and light-bodied, each having its own personality.


9) Single-Malt Whiskey


A single-malt whiskey is made from only one type of malted grain and comes from a single distillery. Unless it's a single cask whiskey, a single-malt whiskey bottle may contain whiskey from numerous separate barrels.

 Infographic showing different types of whiskey



Whiskey comes in a lot more types than you might expect. Different production procedures and the area where they're made can explain the differences in flavor profiles and textures. They also differ depending on the grain used in distillation and aging periods.


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