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Key Takeaways:
  • Whiskey is an alcoholic beverage distilled from grain

  • No additional flavorings added

  • Typically aged in wooden casks / barrels

  • Main Production Regions: Ireland, Scotland, America, Japan, Canada

  • It's spelled "whiskey" and "whiskeys" in Ireland and the United States, and "whisky" and "whiskies" in Scotland, Japan, and Canada


Though whisky’s exact origins are unknown, its existence was first documented in Ireland in 1405 and is defined as an alcoholic beverage distilled from grain and aged in wood barrels. There must be no added flavoring for a whiskey to be a whiskey; all the flavor must come from the production processes {around 65%-75% of a whiskey’s flavor is from the barrel it’s aged in}. The type of grain used in the distilling process and the type of barrel used during aging both determine the type of whiskey that will be produced. Whiskey is a heavily regulated spirit, with those regulations changing slightly throughout the world. Meaning, the location plays a big part in defining a whiskey.


Irish Whiskey

Believed to be the birthplace of whiskey as we know it. Two world wars, the Irish Civil War, the Great Depression and the U.S. Prohibition drastically changed the production of Irish whiskey forever. Once the world leader it’s now just getting back up on its feet.

The Irish allow both pot stills and continuous stills in their production, as well as malted barley, unmalted barley, and any other grain you like.

There are four fundamental kinds of Irish Whiskey:

  1. Single malt whiskey: Made from 100 percent malted barley in a pot stilling in a single distillery.

  2. Grain whiskey: Continuous stills make this light whiskey of wheat or corn.

  3. Blended whiskey: A combination of single malt and grain whiskeys, Jameson is a good example.

  4. Pure Pot Still whiskey: Made from malted and unmalted barley in a pot still. This practice arose from the tax Ireland had on malted barley. Redbreast is a pot still whiskey.


Jameson, Bushmill’s, Redbreast, Teelings


Scotch Whisky

There are two types of whisky distilled in Scotland:

  1. Malt Whisky: distilled in a Pot Still from malted barley

  2. Grain Whisky: distilled on a Continuous Still typically from wheat or corn, with a small amount of barley

From these two come five classifications:

  1. Blended Scotch Whisky: single malt & single grain whiskies blended together

  2. Blended Malt Whisky: a blend of single malt whiskies from more than one distillery

  3. Blended Grain Whisky: a blend of single grain whiskies from more than one distillery

  4. Single Malt Whisky: malt whisky from a single distillery

  5. Single Grain Whisky: grain whisky from a single distillery

  • Can only be made in Scotland.

  • Ingredients: Scotch Whisky must be distilled from malted barley or other whole grains, with no additives other than water and spirit coloring.

  • Proof: All Scotch Whisky must be distilled to no more than 94.7% alcohol or 189.4 proof and bottled at no less than 40% alcohol or 80 proof.

  • Aging: Aging must be in oak casks no larger than 700 litres or 185 gallons for not less than 3 years at a location in Scotland.

  • In addition, any Scotch Whisky with an age stated on the bottle, must indicate the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle.

  • Lowlands: Bottom half of Scotland

  • Highlands: Top half of Scotland

  • Speyside: A small pocket in the East of the Highlands with the River Spey running through it

  • Islay: A small island off the South West coast of Scotland known for Peaty whiskies

  • Campbeltown: A peninsula to the South West of Scotland; one of the first whisky producing regions

  • Auchentoshan (pronounced: AWK-en-TOSH-en, Lowlands)

  • Glenmorangie (pronounced: glen-MORE-an-jee, Highlands)

  • Glenfiddich (pronounced: glen-FIDD-ik, Speyside)

  • Laphroaig (pronounced: la-FROYG, Islay)

  • Springbank (Campbeltown)


American Whiskey

American whiskey is distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain. It must have the taste, aroma, and other characteristics commonly attributed to whiskey.

There are six different types of American whiskey listed in the US federal regulations but we will discuss the main four:

  1. Bourbon whiskey: The most famous of the lot, made from mash that consists of at least 51% corn. Has to be aged in new charred oak containers, distilled at no higher than 160 proof and go into the barrel no higher than 125 proof. If aged more than 2 years, it can be called “Straight Bourbon”.

  2. Rye whiskey: Made from mash that consists of at least 51% rye. Has to be aged in new charred oak containers, distilled at no higher than 160 proof and go into the barrel no higher than 125 proof. If aged more than 2 years, it can be called “Straight Rye”.

  3. Wheat whiskey: Made from mash that consists of at least 51%wheat. Has to be aged in new charred oak containers, distilled at no higher than 160 proof and go into the barrel no higher than 125 proof. If aged more than 2 years, it can be called “Straight Wheat Whiskey.”

  4. Tennessee whiskey: Tennessee law requires that Tennessee whiskey be produced in Tennessee. Otherwise, it follows the same rules as bourbon, with one notable additional requirement: Tennessee whiskey must be filtered through maple charcoal before aging, a step known as the Lincoln County Process which was discovered by an enslaved, then emancipated, man named Nathan "Nearest" Green.

  • Four Roses, Evan Williams, Ezra Brooks (Bourbons)

  • Rittenhouse, Sazerac (both Ryes)

  • Bernheim (Wheat)

  • Uncle Nearest, Jack Daniels, George Dickel (Tennessee)


Japanese Whisky

The production of Japanese whisky began as a conscious effort to recreate the style of Scotch whisky. Pioneers like Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii carefully studied the process of making Scotch whisky, and went to great lengths in an attempt to recreate that process in Japan. Known for using malted barley in a pot still {like the Scots} Japanese whisky is very close in taste, mouthfeel and palate to Scotch. Japanese whisky can, however be made from most grains, distilled in column stills and aged in many different wood types. Currently some of the best whiskies in the world are produced in Japan.


Yamazaki, Nikka, Hakushu, Hibiki



Despite years of slow decline Canadian whisky only recently slipped from first place as the largest whisky category in US sales {2011}. Even so, sales of Canadian whisky are still far bigger than Irish whiskey, and are larger than single malt and blended scotch combined.

To be called Canadian whisky, the whisky must contain alcohol distillate made from cereal grain that is mashed and distilled. It must age in wood for at least three years in Canada. Finally, it must contain no less than 40% alcohol by volume—that’s really about it. This gives Canadian whisky blenders a rare luxury in the whisky world for innovation without excessive restrictions backing them into a corner.

Blending is key in Canadian whisky. It is produced from a wide range of grains, with corn by far being the most common and rye used as a flavor grain. The type of continuous still used, length of distillation, mash bill, and the barrels used for aging all widely vary from brand to brand.

Generally, a whisky producer in Canada will distill two types of whisky: a base spirit normally distilled to a high alcohol content, then aged in used barrels (but again, the styles vary), and a flavoring whisky, usually distilled to a lower alcohol content in column or pot-stills then aged in virgin oak, ex-bourbon or rye re-fill casks. These spirits tend to be aged separately and then blended to the brands specific specification before (sometimes) being aged further, and bottled.


Canadian Club, Crown Royal, Forty Creek, Seagrams, Lot No. 40

Further Reading: Distiller Blog

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