Understanding Different Types of Whiskey

Overwhelmed by the complex world of wines, beers, and spirits? You’re not alone. Today let’s look at one of the most common questions that we receive day in and day out: What the heck is the difference between all these different types of whiskeys? Today’s the day to find out. Join me in a brief tour of the whiskeys of the world, a primer of all things whisk(e)y.

The most noteworthy style of whiskey, or in this case spelled whisky, is Scotch. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, and we could (and probably will) write another whole article on the complexities of the terroir of the country. Scotch is divided into two main styles: Single malt Scotch (like Macallan) is made entirely from malted barley and is produced at a single distillery, whereas blended Scotch (like Johnnie Walker) is made from a blend of malted barley and various others grains, which are distilled separately, sourced from all over the country. The taste of single malt Scotch can vary widely depending on the region in which it is made: Scotch from the briny Islay region can take on a smoky, iodine quality, akin to a campfire by the ocean, while Scotch from Speyside can be more sweet and sumptuous, with notes of vanilla, apricot, and honeysuckle.

Bourbon is American whiskey that is frequently produced in Kentucky, but which can legally be made anywhere in the U.S. The name bourbon has a strict legal definition, which dictates, among other rules, a base grain mixture of at least 51% corn and the use of unused, charred-oak barrels for aging. These requirements give bourbon a characteristic sweetness compared to Scotch, with notes of vanilla-covered cherry, woody oak, and butterscotch. Of course, just like Scotch, the taste of bourbon can vary quite a lot; compare sweet, vanilla-laden Maker’s Mark with burly, brambly Hudson Baby Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a bourbon as well, though it doesn’t say so on the bottle, preferring the term Tennessee Whiskey to give it a local identity.

The names of most other whiskeys aren’t as opaque as Scotch and bourbon. Canadian Whiskies like Pendleton are blends that usually contain more rye than bourbon does, giving them in general a spicier taste; think cloves, toffee, and chocolate. Irish Whiskey is, typically, distilled more times than a Scotch is, which removes more impurities and giving the whiskey its characteristic lightness and fruitiness: Green Spot is warming with a taste of honey and chocolate. Most Irish whiskeys are blends, though there are quite a few single malt Irish whiskeys out there. Japanese Whiskies can be as varied as Scotch; Toki is light and delicate, with notes of white flowers and melon, while Hakushu is bolder and smoky, like a good Islay Scotch. Some Japanese distillers also use unusual grains in their blends: Kikori uses rice to make its whisky.

At least one category of whiskey is known based not on the region in which it is made but the primary grain used to make it: Rye. This booming category of whiskey is made from 51% rye but can be wildly different from a stylistic perspective. A Kentucky-made rye like Rittenhouse will be pungent with baking spices, which a Canadian rye like Crown Royal Northern Harvest might find a more apple-heavy fruit note. Note that a whiskey, like the above Crown Royal example, can be both a Canadian Whisky and a rye, simultaneously.

Hopefully this brief overview of whiskey gives you a better idea of the various styles of spirits out there. There are plenty of other whiskey manufacturers in the world of course, in Australia, Germany, India, and elsewhere, but this should give you a solid base from which to build, and to start exploring the wonderful world of whiskey.

Any questions? Let us know in the comments!

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.19.2015 – Beam Heads To Handcrafted Court

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 12.01.06 PMWhat’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit when it comes to lawyers looking to cash in on a claim. Jim Beam joins labelmate Maker’s Mark along with Angel’s Envy, Tito’s Vodka, and Templeton Rye as the latest class action complaint filed against spirits makers claiming products to be “handmade” or “handcrafted.” Plaintiff Scott Welk alleges that Beam Suntory “duped him into paying a premium price for a product whose production resembles “a modern day assembly line involving little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement.”

The filing (which we have here in PDF form) also states in somewhat hyperbolic fashion that Beam is “immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous and/or substantially injurious.” But it’s not all bad news over in Beam-Suntory land: a recent report over at Shanken claims the company’s sales rose 40% with last year’s acquisition. [Lexington Herald Leader]

Keeping up with its commitment to acquire, innovate, and please Pumpkin Peach ale drinkers, Budweiser is reviving a recipe that’s been dormant for decades. Faust beer is currently available only in St. Louis, but a nationwide rollout is slated for this year, presumably right after the roll out for MixxTail . [Good Beer Hunting]

Similar in spirit to Bud’s anti-craft message comes this gem from Pernod Ricard’s new CEO, Alexander Ricard, is wasting no time in taking shots at the craft industry. He’s also not shy about his goal to take Diageo down a notch or two and position Pernod as the world’s #1 non-craft spirits company. [FT]

And finally today in science news: science and health publisher BMJ is now stating that past studies may have exaggerated the benefits of alcohol, and spending long amounts of time on Facebook makes you drink more. This would be as good a time as any to remind everyone that we’re over on Twitter: @drinkhacker.  [Business Insider]

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.17.2015 – 1792 Gets Upgraded For 2015

1792-bottle-smAnother day, another makeover: this time we see Barton’s 1792 expression getting an overhaul on the packaging and marketing, resembling something heavily influenced by early 20th century/Art Deco aesthetic. While we’re assured that the ingredients inside haven’t changed, this is also the kick off to a campaign featuring new varieties of 1792 including Single Barrel, Barrel Strength, High Rye, and Sweet Wheat somewhere in the not too distant future. Barton has also updated its website to reflect the new campaign. [1792]

The Wall Street Journal‘s Lettie Teague takes on ten myths commonly told in the wine world and attempts to find the truth behind each one. Veteran vino drinkers won’t find anything new here, but folks new to wine may find this article useful to keep in mind while looking for their next bottle at a shop. Elsewhere, Business Insider tells us about the 9 types of wine we really ought to be drinking. [WSJ]

Bourbonr reports on the arrival of new 17 year old Wild Turkey. “Master’s Keep” comes in at a paltry 86.8 proof, with some cryptic notes on the label and the bold slogan “crafted with conviction.” No word on release date yet, nor price tag. [Bourbonr]

Got C$140,000 to spare? If so, Dalmore’s got your next investment ready to roll! The Spirits Business is reporting that the Signature Liquor Store in Vancouver has a set of four single malts ranging from 42 to 46 years in age for sale starting today. By comparison, it is important to keep in mind that C$140,000 was the last going price for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey franchise. Oh, Canada! [The Spirits Business]

And finally today, our pals over Winebags.com do a heck of a job with their Vine Daily columns, and this infographic detailing how the world’s alcohol is made is simply outstanding. Worth pouring a glass of your favorite and studying over a long period of time. [The Daily Vine]

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.11.2015 – Budweiser Branches Out, Hilhaven Sues Heaven Hill

BudLightMixxtailBudweiser, that firm pillar of macrobrewing, is pleased as punch to announce a new product extension under the Bud Light umbrella. The Mixxtail series of pre-made cocktails will make its debut next week in Firewalker, Hurricane, and Long Island flavors. Not to be confused with the Straw-Ber-Rita, Mang-O-Rita and Raz-Ber-Rita macro cocktails it also makes. [STL Today]

In other Bud news, its now infamous TV ad has sparked up vigorous and frothy ire in the halls of Congress. Not really known for its rapid work output, collaborative spirit or can-do attitude, our national legislators surprisingly stood tall and valiantly defended our right to sip Pumpkin Peach Ale. [The Daily Beast]

In less “Bud”dy -like news… Hollywood director Brett Ratner is suing Heaven Hill Distilleries (which filled its 7th millionth barrel in a ceremony held yesterday) for allegedly trying to block his future plans in delivering a premium whiskey to market with Diageo. Ratner’s Hilhaven would be distilled in partnership with Diageo, and Heaven Hill is attempting to block Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year of the Ramit due to the two names being so similar. Ratner has now counter filed, alleging that consumers would simply associate the name with his house (Hilhaven Lodge) and the lavish parties he’s known for throwing at the estate. [The Spirits Business]

And finally today, Diageo is preparing its second special edition of Johnnie Walker Blue celebrating the lunar new year. Blue Label Year of The Ram will be in limited offering at a price of $260 for a 750ml. bottle. And apparently if you put four bottles side by side a Chinese scroll painting will appear. No word on what happens when you sync up your drinking with The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.”

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.05.2015 – Short Barley, Cheap Vodka and Big Bourbon

While everyone is still foaming at the glass about the recent Budweiser brew-ha-ha, a small article published in USA Today has passed by with relatively little fanfare that has a direct impact on brewers big and small: there’s a barley shortage looming. [USA Today]

So now we’ve got too much demand for barley for beer, and we’re supposedly (but not really) in the midst of a bourbon shortage, but it seems as if there’s an abundance of vodka (both flavored and unflavored) ready for the taking. And if you’re in Russia, it’s now available at cheaper prices! [CNBC]

The Distilled Spirits Council released its 2014 annual report, with great news for the Bourbon and American whiskey industry: We’re doing great! DISCUS Chief Economist David Ozgo reported on Tuesday that Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey sales volumes were up 7.4% over last year, bringing in an extra $2.7 billion in revenue. Irish Whiskey and Single Malts grew 9.1% and 4.6% respectively. While flavored vodka sales saw a decline, traditional vodka volumes increased 3.7%.

Get ready Baltimore: Drizly launches here on Thursday. The alcohol delivery app will be working with local stores to bring the best booze right to your doorstep. [Baltimore Magazine]

Glenrothes 1968And finally today, Glenrothes is readying an expression from 1968 which will be available in March to world travelers, specifically those in Singapore. The single cask is housed in a handmade crystal bottle made by a Portuguese craftsman and will set you back £5,500. Failing a sellout in Singapore, a worldwide release is planned for later this year.

Drinkhacker Reads – 02.03.2015 – Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project Reaches A Finale, Finally

The experiment known as the Single Oak Project will at last be reaching its conclusion after sixteen rounds and 192 barrels of bourbon. This final round will focus on number four char level barrels and stave seasoning of six months. The rest of the variables (recipes, entry proof, and grain size) will change. As of last tally, barrels 82, 109, and 111 were all in the lead, and if you haven’t already, you can cast your vote on the project’s website. Check out our thoughts on the project thus far. [Single Oak Project]

In other news, three days out and people are still up in arms over Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad taking a shot at craft beer drinkers. Bud’s VP has now come out saying there was “no offense” intended, but it seems hard to take the jab on the chin any other way.

Should the definition of Tennessee whiskey should be expanded? This surprisingly articulate article from Jackyl’s lead singer/chainsaw player Jesse James Dupree makes a compelling argument for the case. [The Tennessean]

And finally, today the Spirits Business takes a look back at ten of the most definitive moments in the history of Scotch. It’s a solid (and brief) lesson that serves as an introduction, but also whets the curiosity enough to dig deeper into the spirit’s history for more interesting tales. [Spirits Business]

Drinkhacker Reads – 01.29.2015 – Craft Beer Made From Sewage Water: The New Trend

A company in Oregon wants to make craft beer out of recycled wastewater. There’s certainly an argument that this is not innovative, as a few craft breweries are already unintentionally engaging in this process. [NPR]

The demand for Japanese whisky is still hot with no signs of slowing down. The Spirits Business reports that a recent Hong Kong auction far exceeded earlier sales estimates, with the Ichiro’s Playing Card series attracting considerable interest. [The Spirits Business]

Good news for winemakers: Shipments were up in 2014 both domestically and internationally. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at where all of this wine is being shipped to and consumed.

In science news, researchers have found that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of heart failure but significantly increases your chance in developing cirrhosis. Compounds found in beer could potentially fend off Parkinson’s Disease, and alcohol consumption before bed alters sleep patterns. Wired magazine (and Drinkhacker boss Christopher Null) puts five different wine stain removers through the paces. In science fiction news, io9 takes a look at the worst liquors in all of explored space.

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