Discussing The Difference In Types of Whiskey

AD| Whiskey is a drink that divides people. Not in the literal sense - when friends gather together to enjoy a dram of a good whiskey, it encourages conviviality and a good feeling. No, what divides people is talking about whiskey, specifically the different kinds, the good and the bad, the technicalities of what even constitutes a whiskey. In fact, as we’ll come to see, even the spelling of the word can lead to differences of opinion.

Below, we’ll approach some of the different kinds of whiskey from the point of view of a beginner and show what the differences are, which whiskeys will work for whom, and where the different types come from. Learning something about these differences may help you when discussing whiskey with someone whose opinions may differ from yours. 


Scotch Whisky
As you will have noticed, Scottish versions of the beverage carry the name “whisky”, without the “E” that is usually included in the word when it comes from another country. The word is from a Gaelic translation literally meaning “water of life”, and when transliterated by Scotch distillers, “whisky” was how it was spelt. It’s not just the spelling that differs, though. Typically, whisky is made from malted barley and aged in oak casks, ideally for no fewer than three years. Whether a single or blended malt, single or blended grain, or simply a blended whisky, the Scottish form of the drink has an earthy, smoky flavour seen by many as the ultimate version.

Irish Whiskey
Known for having a smoother finish than Scotch whiskies, the Irish form of whiskey is often made from a yeast-fermented grain mash or a blend of cereals. Like its Scottish counterpart, Irish whiskey is also aged in wooden barrels, though no specific wood is prioritised. The ageing process lasts at least three years, and Irish whiskey can best be differentiated from its neighbour across the sea by the absence of that tell-tale peaty, aromatic tone. Irish whiskey is produced all over the island of Ireland.

Bourbon Whiskey
The most famous form of whiskey produced in the United States, bourbon looks and tastes markedly different from its Celtic cousins - you’ll recognise it by its fiery red colouring and its sweeter taste. The production method is different too - Bourbon is made mostly from corn and fermented in charred oak casks, ageing for up to ten years. Many people believe that Jack Daniels is the most famous bourbon, but it isn’t - it’s actually a…

Tennessee Whiskey
Similar in many ways to bourbon, the big difference with Tennessee whiskey is that it is steeped in charcoal before it is allowed into the casks for fermentation. This allows it a smokier, almost treacly taste which will be familiar to many drinkers.

Rye Whiskey
The alternative to corn-derived whiskeys, this kind is produced using a mash of no less than 51% rye along with other grains before ageing in charred barrels for no less than two years. The different production method bestows upon it a taste that can variously be described as “fruity” or “piquant”.

There are, of course, other sources for whiskey, but these are the main ones exported worldwide. Which you prefer is a matter of personal taste, although Scotch is generally favoured by the connoisseur thanks to its more complex flavour profile.

Do you like to drink whiskey? What is your favourite type?

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