You go to the whiskey section of a liquor store, and you see Scotch, bourbon, rye and other names. They might seem like different types of liquor, but they’re actually all varieties of whiskey! But if they’re all whiskey, then what’s the difference between the numerous varieties? We’re going to give you a complete picture of the various types of whiskey, so you can make a more informed choice when buying a bottle or ordering a glass at the bar.

What’s the Distinction?

All whiskey is aged in wooden barrels, which adds to the flavor of the drink, and crafted with a fermented grain mash (sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?). The main difference in flavor between the various types of whiskey is the composition of that mash. The distillers use their own distinct mixture of wheat, corn, rye and/or barley. Different regions use compositions specific to their location.

On top of the types of grain, each whiskey variety is also made somewhat differently. Distinctions can come from the type of barrel used, the amount of time the whiskey ages and the proof of the alcohol. To be called a whiskey, the drink needs to have at least 40 percent and at most 94.8 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV, during the distillation.

Support North American Whiskey

For an all-American whiskey, choose bourbon, also known as “America’s Native Spirit.” This type of whiskey gets its sweet flavor from using at least 51 percent corn in its mash and its name from its original birthplace of Bourbon County in Kentucky. However, it just needs to be made in the U.S. to be classified as bourbon, not necessarily in this county. Also, this type is aged in brand spankin’ new barrels that are made out of charred oak, and it has a max of 80 ABV during distillation.

Then there’s something called Tennessee whiskey, which is really just bourbon with unique marketing. You can also find wheat whiskey, which when made in America, needs to be made of up at least 51 percent wheat. This is also aged in new barrels made of charred oak.

Rye whiskey isn’t as regional, and the guidelines depend on where it’s made. Rye made in Canada doesn’t have guidelines, which results in some rye being made mostly with corn. It just needs to have some rye and to have the characteristics of traditional Canadian whiskey (which are a bit unclear) to be called rye. In other words, who knows what you’ll get when you pick up some Canadian rye! American rye, on the other hand, has stricter guidelines. Similar to bourbon, it needs to have at least 51 percent rye to carry the name. It’s aged in new barrels of charred oak with a max ABV of 80 percent during distillation.

Taste the British Isles

This region of the world is a popular place to find quality whiskey – or whisky without the “e” if you’re Scottish. Scotch whisky uses malted barley in its mash and is aged in oak casks for three years or more, with an ABV under 94.8 percent. It must be made in Scotland.

As you could imagine, Irish whiskey comes from Ireland. There aren’t strict guidelines for this type, so you’ll find a lot of variation. It can be used from any type of cereal grains that are fermented with yeast – it just needs to have a flavor and scent that show off the grains used to be distinguished as Irish whiskey. Also, it is aged in wooden casks for three years or more, and has a max ABV of 94.8 during distillation. If it’s made of more than one type of grain, it’s called blended.

These are the major types of whiskey, although you can find different varieties made around the world. You’ll also find variations within each category, depending on the brand and the style. So if you’re really interested, do some research on the type you like, talk to your favorite knowledgeable bartender or just try a bunch of different varieties. And be sure to leave us a note in the comments about which type(s) of whiskey you love and which you hate (if any)!

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About The Author

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Passive Eater

I am quiet when I eat and loud when I write. On the streets and in the field calling it like I see it