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Have you ever fumbled over a bar menu, wondering what whisky will be better in your cocktail? Or wondered why some are spelled whisky and others, whiskey? This quick cheat sheet will help you sail through an evening without worrying about getting your spirits mixed up.
To simplify things for you: the name of the spirit is based on factors such as the type of cereal grain used in the distilling process as well as how and where it was produced. And about that e, ‘whiskey’ is used in the US and in Ireland, whereas it’s plain, ol’ whisky in Scotland, Canada and other parts of the world.
Whisky terms explained
Distillers who want to label and market their product as Scotch must produce their whisky in Scotland. The five areas used to reference Scotch whisky are Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, Lowlands, Highlands and Islands.
Typically, Scotch whisky is made from malted barley or grain. The spirit, which has an earthy and smoky flavour, is aged in oak casks for more than three years. Scotch is divided into five distinct categories that include single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain and blended Scotch whisky.
All distillers must abide by the stipulations laid out in the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, legislation under which the production, bottling, labelling, packaging and advertising of Scotch whisky is governed.
As the name suggests, this whiskey is made in Ireland. While Scotch comprises malted barley and water, Irish whiskey is made from a yeast-fermented mash of malted cereals (corn, wheat, barley). Both spirits have distinct distillation processes. Irish whiskey is typically distilled thrice as compared to Scotch which is distilled twice. This extra step results in a lighter drink with a smoother finish.
A distilled American whiskey, Bourbon is primarily made from corn (at least 51%), is stored in charred new oak barrels and does not contain any additives. For a whiskey to be called a Bourbon, it must be produced anywhere in the United States. When compared to Scotch and Irish whiskey, Bourbon is sweeter and characterised by vanilla, oak, caramel and spice notes.
Tennessee whiskey is a type of whiskey produced in the US state of Tennessee. The difference between Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon lies in the method of filtering. Both require the same corn percentage and must be aged in new charred oak barrels. A Tennessee whiskey must go through a charcoal filtering process, which mellows the drink’s character.
Rye whiskey is primarily made in North America with a mash of at least 51% rye, a member of the wheat family. Other ingredients in the drink are corn and barley. It is aged in charred barrels for at least two years and tends to be spicier as compared to Bourbon’s smooth, slightly sweet flavour. It’s the preferred choice for whiskey cocktails.
Crafted Scottish-style, Japanese whisky relies on mashed malted barley that is distilled twice in pot stills and aged in wood barrels. Japanese whiskies are often aged in Japanese Mizunara oak, which imparts perfume-like notes of citrus, spice and incense into the spirit. Whiskies from Japan tend to be delicate with a honeyed sweetness.
A blended whisky fuses different types of whiskies as well as neutral grain spirits, colourings, and flavouring at times. Typically, it is a result of mixing one or more higher-quality single malt with less expensive spirits and other ingredients.
Single-malt whisky is made from one batch of Scotch at a single distillery. It must be aged in an oak barrel for three years before being bottled. For Scotch, the single malted ingredient is barley. However, in the US, it may be rye.