How Whiskey Is Made
To produce whisky, distillers start with a mash bill of grains, sometimes referred to as a grain mash:
- That mixture of grains is combined with water and yeast.
- The yeast will feed on the simple sugars inside the grain mixture.
- The yeast then excretes alcohols such as methanol, ethanol, and carbon dioxide this is called the fermentation process.
- That fermented liquid is then run through either pot still, column still, or a combination of both to produce the spirit.
- That batch is then usually stored in an oak vessel for maturation.
Different Types Of Whiskey
There are too many types of whiskey to list all in this article, but the most popular kinds include bourbon, rye whiskey, Japanese whiskey, and blended whiskey. The difference mainly comes from the kind of grain used in the mashing process.
Blended whiskey is a common and affordable type of whiskey. Blended whiskey is created by mixing different types of whiskey or by mixing multiple grains.
One of the most prestigious whiskey types is single-barrel whiskey. As the name suggests, this kind of whiskey is not mixed or blended with any other varieties. Single-Barrel whiskey ages alone in a single barrel and originates from one type of grain, resulting in a more refined and pure whiskey.
Virgin Oak: The Unique Bourbon Aging Process
The first thing to note for bourbon is the somewhat confusing rules regarding aging, and the reality, bourbon does not have to be aged for any particular minimum, unless its labeled as straight bourbon whiskey, at which point it needs to be aged for at least 2 years.
This is less stringent, and shorter than the 3 years that are standard across the world, for whiskey. That being said, you can expect most bourbons to be somewhere in the range of 2-5 years old unless otherwise stated, depending on the distillery.
However, there is a reason for this, and thats the oak thats used for the aging process. Whereas most other whiskey types are aged in refill casks, thats casks that have previously held another liquid, such as sherry, or even bourbon, bourbon by regulation must be aged in virgin, otherwise referred to as new, oak casks.
These casks are more active than refill casks, and impose more character onto the spirit in a shorter period of time, meaning bourbon does not require as much aging as other whiskeys.
The type of oak used has a huge impact on the flavor profile of a whiskey, and this can be ably demonstrated by the mandatory use of charred new American Oak in bourbon production.
Even the level of cask char has an impact, as when a barrel is charred, chemicals inside it break down into sugars, which caramelize in layers beneath the unburnt wood.
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Ordering Whisky In Scotland
The first rule of ordering whisky in Scotland is to never call it Scotch. It’s whisky when it’s blended and malt when it’s single-malt. When ordering malt, it’s a faux pas to order it on the rocks because ice numbs the tongue and does not let you appreciate the flavor of the whisky. You can drink malt neat or with a drop of water. Ordering it with Coke, of course, is also a terrible idea.
They Go Through Different Aging Processes
Bourbon has no minimum aging period, but to call your product Straight Bourbon, a specific distinction of quality, it must be aged for no less than two years and have no added coloring, flavor or spirits. Conversely, Scotch must be aged for no less than three years. Within Scotch, though, there are additional distinctions as well. For instance, a single malt Scotch is made with malted barley in pot stills at a single distillery and blended Scotch whisky is made by combining several single malts with other whiskies in column stills.
Scotch also tends to be aged longer than bourbon, with many of the most popular whiskies hitting shelves after anywhere from 12-25 years inside barrels. Part of the reason for this is a difference in climates. Bourbon is predominantly produced in Kentucky, where the climate is quite warm during the summer and therefore bourbon evaporates at a faster rate. This means that the longer bourbon is in the barrel, the lower the yield and the more expensive it gets.
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Popular Scotch And Whiskey Cocktails
Lets get to some examples of cocktails! Of course, you can drink Scotch or whiskey straight up. But we prefer it mixed into drinks! Keep in mind, Scotch cocktails are considered whiskey cocktails because its a type of whiskey, but not all whiskey cocktails are Scotch cocktails. In fact, if a cocktail calls for whiskey, we dont recommend using a Scotch unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Scotch has a very distinct flavor and its usually called for specifically in a cocktail recipe.
The Different Ingredients Used In Irish Whiskey Vs Scotch
As we discussed earlier, the big difference between the ingredients used to make the two spirits is that Irish Whiskey is usually made from unmalted barley, whereas Scotch is made from malted barley.
A single grain Scotch is often used to denote a whisky made with a single grain thats not malted barley, although malted barley is added to start the fermentation process.
Irish Whiskey comes in single malt, single pot still, single grain, and blended forms, though the single pot still is probably the most interesting. It means that it is made from both malted and unmalted barley, which grew out of a tradition of using unmalted barley, as malted barley was taxed .
Related read: Check out our guide to the difference between Irish whiskey vs Bourbon.
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Ingredients Used In Their Fermentation Process
The production of bourbon and scotch is heavily regulated throughout the United States which ensures that youre only getting the highest quality alcohol when you decide to purchase a bourbon or scotch.
In order for an alcoholic beverage to be approved as a bourbon, it must be fermented using a grain mix that is composed of at least 51% corn.
Many companies who produce bourbon alcoholic beverages accomplish this by simply combining rye, wheat, and barley into one pot in order to create the perfect brew for their bourbon or scotch variety.
In order for an alcoholic drink to be considered a scotch, it must be made using malted barley which is typically the primary ingredient used in the fermentation and creation of scotch alcohol varieties.
Scotch alcoholic beverages also commonly use ingredients such as yeast and water to encapsulate the overall flavors of the grain used. Scotch alcohol producers and manufacturers are also allowed to add whole cereal grains to their scotch alcohol varieties in order to add more color and character to the liquor.
Which Scotch Whiskey Is The Best
Single malt Scotch whiskey is the most popular one these days. This is a whiskey that is made by one single distillery that uses only malted barley. There are no other cereals in this whiskey, and it has to be produced and bottled in Scotland.
Another type of Scotch whiskey is single grain, which is not as common in the rest of the world. The production starts only with malted barley, but then whole grains or cereals are added. This is usually the Scotch that is used in blended whiskey as well.
The next type of Scotch is a blended whiskey, which is made from at least one or more single malt whiskey blended with a single grain whiskey.
Blended Scotch whiskey constitutes about 90% of all Scotch produced in Scotland. You may be familiar with some brands, such as Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal.
One type of Scotch whiskey that is far less common across the world is blended malt Scotch. It was called a vatted malt or pure malt, and it is made using two or more malt Scotch whiskeys from different distilleries. This whiskey should not contain any grain whiskey at all.
A final type of Scotch whiskey is double malt Scotch. However, this Scotch is no different except that it was aged in two or more types of casks. This whiskey remains in the single malt category, but it is often called double or triple malt instead.
As with Irish whiskey, choosing the best Scotch whiskey depends mostly on taste and cost. For most, single malt Scotch is the purest, but it is also often the priciest.
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Scotch Vs Whiskey: All You Need To Know
The first thing you need to understand when we talk about scotches versus whiskey, is that all Scotches are whiskies, though not all whiskies are scotches. If you are learning how to drink whiskey, knowing the difference is fundamental. Thats the easiest way to remember how that works. But why? Well, for starters Scotch is made in Scotland. Also for namings sake, whiskeys are for American and Irish-made whiskies. Whisky is for Canadian, Japanese, and Scottish whiskies.
Scotch is hugely popular, even though in 2020 the Scotch Whisky Association said the industry lost a decade of growth as sales fell 20% due to high tariffs from the U.S. and Europe and the pandemic. Still, the industry exported £3.8 billion, which made up for approximately 75% of Scottish food and beverage exports.
But what makes a Scotch, a Scotch?
They’re Made With Different Ingredients
The U.S. government has very strict regulations for bourbon, one of which is that bourbon whiskey must be made from a grain mixture of at least 51 percent corn. The rest is usually a mix of malted barley, rye and wheat. Scotch whisky, on the other hand, must be made from malted barley, which is Scotch’s primary ingredient, along with water and yeast. Scotch producers are permitted to include other whole cereal grains for coloring.
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Excellent Whiskey No Matter The Type
Its honestly hard to fathom the complexity and the long history of whisky, from its humble origins with Irish monks to becoming one of the most appreciated spirits in the world.
It is an alcohol with an arguably tumultuous past where iconic styles have almost been lost to history it was smuggled as part of illicit rum-running and has had its traditions and boundaries pushed, stretched, and tested.
Whisky is at an ongoing impasse of old versus new. To me, that makes it all the more intriguing, all the more satisfying to enjoy.
Is it any wonder why whisky is one of the most polarizing spirits? Each world of whisky offers such distinctive and adventurous perspectives to the same grains.
The only thing that matters is that each style of whisky is unique and indicative of the names they bear. Each style comes with its own regulations that maintain its identity and its quality. Each comes with their own geographical recognitionsso long as they follow those regulations.
Yet, there is one common denominator between them all: Passion. Its why we argue over which is better and why each whiskey distiller confidently boasts they have the best whisky in the world. And it is their regulations that maintain the continuity of that product, creating parameters for the passion that maintain that quality.
Whatever it is you drink, remember everything that goes into making that succulent elixir, and enjoy it passionately.
Bourbon Is Whiskey Scotch Is Whisky
The “whiskey” spelling is used for American and Irish spirits, including bourbon. Conversely, “whisky” is used by the rest of the world, including Europe, Australia, Japan and, of course, Scotland. Regardless of spelling, all whiskey or whisky must be distilled to a minimum of 40 percent and a maximum of 94.8 percent alcohol by volume .
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The Difference In Taste Between Irish Whiskey Vs Scotch
The final key difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey is the taste. Scotch Whisky is made from malted barley and often features a fuller, heavier taste than most other whiskies.
Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is renowned for its smooth flavour and hints of vanilla, thanks to its triple distillation and use of unmalted barley . It tends to show up in blends a lot more frequently due to this easy taste.
The materials used in the process of making whiskeys are also integral to their final flavour profiles.
Both Scotland and Ireland use oak casks. These have a pronounced effect on a whiskeys flavour, which can vary based on the conditions and type of the cask used. Ex-Bourbon casks, for example, contribute to a sweeter flavour, while Sherry casks often mean a fruitier or spicier taste.
What Is The Most Popular Scotch Whiskey
Data shared by The Spirits Business shows that Johnnie Walker remains the most popular Scotch whisky label, with more than double the number of cases sold in 2020 compared to Ballantine’s, its closest competitor. Grant’s, William Lawson’s, and Chivas Regal rank third, fourth, and fifth place, respectively.
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Whiskey Is A Distilled Grain Spirit
According to Whiskey Advocate, whiskey is a distilled spirit that is made from grain. All other distilled liquors are made from other sources. For example, brandy, such as Armagnac or Cognac, comes from grapes. Whiskey makers use malted barley or other grains to make the spirit. They soak the grains in hot water to release the sugars and then add yeast to ferment the sugar into alcohol. Finally, they distill the liquor and age it in barrels.
Bourbon, Scotch, and rye are all types of whiskey. There are other types of whiskey as well.
Lots to unpack here. The basics, according to Encyclopedia Britannica:
Whiskey can be any of a variety of distilled liquors that are made from a fermented mash of cereal grains and aged in wooden containers, which are usually constructed of oak. Commonly used grains are corn, barley malt, rye, and wheat.
The difference between whiskey and whisky is where the stuff is made: in the United States and Ireland, its spelled whiskey in Scotland, Canada, and Japan, its whisky.
Now, for the differences between Scotch, bourbon, and rye. Back to Encyclopedia Britannica:
Scotch is a whisky that gets its distinctive smoky flavor from the process in which it is made: the grain, primarily barley, is malted and then heated over a peat fire. A whisky cannot be called Scotch unless it is entirely produced and bottled in Scotland.
Defining Characteristics Of Scotch And Irish Whiskey
There are a handful of key rules that all distillers must abide by to be granted the protected titles of either Scotch or Irish whiskey.
It wont come as a surprise that by law, Scotch whisky must be distilled and matured in Scotland. Furthermore, the maturation process must take place in oak casks for at least three years and the whisky bottled at a minimum strength of 40% ABV.
Irish whiskey has nearly the same requirements but of course must be produced on the island of Ireland and can be distilled on either side of the border. The notable exception is that Irish whiskey can be matured in wooden casks other than oak. This can seriously influence the flavor profile, but the majority opt for oak due to its hard-wearing and porous nature.
Not so much a rule, more a tradition, Irish whiskey tends to be triple distilled, giving it what some consider a smoother, more accessible taste than its Scottish counterpart, which is generally distilled twice. There are exceptions, however, with Lowland Scotch brand Auchentoshan producing triple-distilled whisky and Irish single malt The Tyrconnell distilled just twice.
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Scotch Regions Of Scotland
Scotland is the home of Scotch and five areas that bring their own take and approach to the spirit. That said, these geographic boundaries are much less significant today since the Scotchs traits and characteristics are not as exclusive to each area as they used to be.
This is the worlds most densely populated Scotch region and is famous for its fertile glens. Pear, apple, vanilla, honey, and spice are common in Speysides Scotch which is often aged in sherry casks. However, this area is not known for its peat, which is what creates the smokiness of some Scotches.
Highland and the Islands
This flavor-diverse region offers a wide array of Scotches everything from light and bright to salty and malted pours. There truly is something for every palate here.
If youre into a gentle, smooth and soft malt, youre into Lowland Scotch. This area is known for lighter-bodied Scotches in flavors of ginger, cream, honeysuckle, grass, toast, toffee, and cinnamon.
Another island region, Islay is largely involved in Scotch production, particularly the smoky, peated type.
Campbeltown is known for full-flavored Scotches rich in character that span a wide array of flavors. Think fruit, vanilla, smoke, salt, and toffee.
Whats The Difference Between Scotch Irish Whisky And Bourbon
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.
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But What Does It Taste Like: Flavor Profiles
As you can imagine, its hard to pin down any kind of flavor profile for whiskey in general, especially in comparison to bourbons, which goes some way to explaining why the latter is the more popular cocktail ingredient, with its consistency and availability making it the perfect base for a number of combinations.
That being said, much like bourbon, different types of whiskey do also have their own broad characteristics, and heres a handy guide:
- Scotch: As the most famous and storied of the whiskey producers, Scotlands styles vary from region to region, and these are three of the most prominent
- Highland: The largest area by geography, and the most varied, but you can usually expect a light and fruity spirit
- Islay: Home to Laphroaig and the other distilleries famed for their smoky coastal taste, often underpinned by rich fruits in the background
- Speyside: Home to over half of Scotlands distilleries, this region is famed for its complex sweet and rich notes