Whiskey. A spirit so full of variations and styles that you’ll never run out of options to try. Even if you tried to. But here’s the bitter aftertaste of that sweet fact: you can’t explore the world of whiskeys without the risk of getting burned by substandard concoctions.
Luckily, finding your next favorite spirit doesn’t have to feel like throwing darts in the dark. You just need to know the basics of popular types of whiskeys to make a more calculated choice. Things like how each type of whiskey is made and what to expect from it.
So here’s your fix of a straightforward guide to popular whiskey types. Enjoy!
1. Bourbon Whiskey
With a minimum of 51% corn mash and 80-160 proof, Bourbon is hands down America’s biggest contribution to the world of whiskeys.
Since it’s made of corn and aged in a charred oak container, this spirit is characterized by its sweet and smoky flavor. Think of caramel and vanilla tones if you want an idea of what to expect.
While you might think that a spirit must be made in Kentucky for it to be bestowed with the title of Bourbon, legally it can be made in any U.S. state.
Here’s a fun fact. Since distillation and aging booze are age-old practices, we don’t know for sure where this category of whiskey comes from. Some say Kentucky is the birth state of this heavenly drink. But the list of claimants competing for the same honor is a long one. As such, the true origins of this spirit shall remain unknown.
If you want to make your special occasions memorable, consider fixing a glass of Blantons Bourbon Whisky for yourself and the fortunate folks around you. Each bottle comes from a reserved “center-cut” section barrel of Colonel Albert B. Blanton’s Warehouse H.
2. Tennessee Whiskey
Not to ruffle any feathers, but Tennessee Whiskey is little more than the state’s own take on bourbon. It’s practically the same drink with some additional regulations.
For starters, a spirit can only be labeled with this name if it’s produced in the state of Tennessee. But the more important step is filtration through maple charcoal chunks before the distillation is moved to the aging process.
As for the taste, imagine a sweeter, mellower bourbon with the smoky profile amped up, all thanks to the charcoal mellowing process.
If you want to try an authentic Tennessee whiskey, check out Jack Daniel’s Old No.7. As America’s oldest registered distillery, they know a thing or two about making drinks with a distinct smoothness to them.
3. Rye Whiskey
If you thought Tennesse whiskey sounded a lot like bourbon, buckle up because this is going to prove otherwise. Rye whiskey is practically identical to bourbon if you ignore the one difference: it’s made with 51% or more rye.
The downplay of the sweetness of corn and the fiery spice of rye give this drink a spice-forward taste profile.
If you want to celebrate your wins like Don Draper from the show Mad Man, with a manly drink in hand and piercing shine in your eyes, the Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye will serve second to none. This bottle has the honor of being the “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021.
4. Irish Whiskey
No worldly power can separate an Irish man from his whiskey. It’s safe to say that they know more about producing world-class spirits than pretty much everybody else.
Irish law dictates that for a drink to be called Irish whiskey, it must be made with a mash of malt and distilled in wooden casks, with 3 years of aging at minimum. Caramel coloring is a typical additive that gives the bottle that luxe shade of golden brown.
As for taste, the triple-distillation gives this category of whiskey a smooth texture and the use of mash malt lowers sweetness compared to bourbon.
By the way, did you know that there are only three distilleries in the whole of Ireland? So whether you fix yourself a glass of James or Paddy or Midleton, in the end, you’ll still be enjoying the produce of the same Midleton distillery!
If you want to try some authentic Irish whiskey, a bottle of Bushmills Original Irish Whisky is exactly what you need.
5. Scotch Whisky
So far we’ve covered the Irish and American whiskeys on this list, and even the entire American lineup is inspired by Irish roots. So let’s do a complete detour and take a sip of the world of scotch.
The only mandatory requirements for Scotch whisky are malted barley and 40% ABV. Other than that, the producers have plenty of room for creativity, which they take full advantage of by adding a variety of cereal grains, flavoring additives, and more.
With over 100 different distilleries—and yes, that’s one with two zeroes—you’ll be hardpressed to find a category of whisky with a wider variety of production methods, styles, and taste profiles.
Ranging from strong smoky peat flavor to fruiter tones, there’s a distinct taste tailored for everybody’s palette. Additive flavors take things to the next level with options like honey, almond, leather, dried fruits, nectarine, and vanilla.
But don’t get us wrong. Even the sweeter styles of scotch carry a meaner punch than their mellow counterparts from the bourbon side of whiskeys.
In simpler terms, this means you shouldn’t expect to enjoy your first shot of scotch if you’ve never tried a drink from this category in your life. In fact, it’s common to go through multiple fixes of scotch across many occasions before you develop a tolerance for its burn. But once you reach that point, there’s no turning back!
Check out ARDBEG Single Malt Scotch 10 yr to see what ten years of aging in ex-bourbon American Oak casks tastes like. Here’s a hint: you’re in for a smoky balance of sweet vanilla and bold spice!
6. Japanese Whisky
Last but surely not least is the Japanese variety. This is like the guy who shows up late at a party but then becomes the life of it. Even though the Japanese got into the whisky game around the 1920s, you can find their spirits on many “Best of the Bests” whisky lists today.
Japanese whisky is about as close to scotch as possible. Even the distillation methods are similar. The result is a spirit that tastes like scotch, but not without distinct undertones of its own. Expect a bold, complex, but perfectly balanced taste profile from every sip!
For better or worse, there are next to no regulations for Japanese whisky. This leaves lots of room for creativity, but not always for the better. Many dishonest producers are taking advantage and selling substandard concoctions with the Japanese label slapped on the bottle.
If you want to hit your tastebuds with the divine taste of harmonic Japanese whisky, be sure to grab yourself a bottle of HIBIKI Harmony Japanese Whisky.
What about Rare Allocated Whiskeys?
The only way to produce a well-aged whiskey is by, well, letting it age for years on end. This naturally results in a scarce supply. The producers then are left with two choices. Either they raise the price directly or limit supply to distributors.
When producers choose to limit supply to specific distributors, this means distributors won’t get any more than the allocated quantity. Hence the term “allocated whiskeys”.
As you can imagine, rare allocated whiskeys can attract quite the price tag due to how scarce they are.
With whiskeys, there’s a simple rule. The longer they age, the more sophisticated they taste. So if you’re someone who appreciates spirits with complex tones, rare allocated whiskeys will make the perfect poison of choice for you. Something like Dalwhinnie Scotch Whiskey which has been aged for 30 years is an example of an extremely allocated and hard to find whiskey.
We hope our guide to the six popular types of whiskeys has helped you get a more nuanced understanding of this precious spirit. For more, be sure to stick around for our next blog.