There are thousands of varieties of whiskey (or whisky, depending on their origins) around the world. Enthusiasts tend to stick to a certain region of the world because of the rules and methods used in the distilling process.
Let’s take a look at the five main varieties of whiskey.
The first record of a scotch-like concoction was written in 1494 where it was referred to as aqua vitae, Latin for ‘water of life’. As the name implies, Scotch (sometimes called Scotch Whisky) originates in Scotland and describes a malt whiskey, grain whisky, or combination of the two.
There are many rules surrounding the distilling of this age-old beverage, but to be categorized as such, all Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years, fermented using yeast, processed into a mash, and (of course) made in Scotland.
The exact origins of Bourbon are a little foggy, but the general consensus is that the name came from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where the drink was first created. Many assume there is a connection to the Bourbon monarchy in France. The French family is responsible for naming the Kentucky providence and the historic street in the French quarter of New Orleans, but don’t have a direct connection to the drink.
Bourbon is well-known as being an American-made beverage, relating primarily to the South. To be considered bourbon, each batch must be made from at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak containers. Unlike Scotch, there is no minimum aging period for general bourbon. Other varieties–such as straight bourbon– is aged for no less than two years.
One of the earliest distilled drinks in the history of Europe is Irish Whiskey. It is believed that Irish monks brought the drink with them on their travels through the Mediterranean over a thousand (yes, a thousand) years ago. It became so popular that there were 1,228 registered distilleries in Ireland in 1779, though today the number is only around one hundred.
Compared to other whiskeys, Irish whiskey typically has a smoother finish than the earthy, smoky flavors in Scotch. This is because Irish whiskey uses peat in the malting process, and distillers also do not toast the barley.
Most Canadian whiskys are blended multi-grain beverages of corn, rye, and other grains. This makes the Whisky lighter and smoother than many other varieties. The distinctive flavor of Canadian whisky comes from the use of rye, so much so that Canadian and rye are often interchangeable in describing the drink.
Canadian whisky was a popular beverage in speakeasies around the U.S. during prohibition. Bootleggers would easily smuggle the drink over the nearly 3,000 miles of waterways separating the U.S. and Canada. It’s believed that over two-thirds of the Whiskey imported to the U.S. during prohibition came from Canada.
Distillers in Japan are largely influenced by Scotch. Japanese distillers operate under the strictest standards to create only the very best products. Japanese blends also tend to be more fragrant than other varieties, using honey, sherry, and floral notes. Some may assume that these distilleries are the ‘new kids on the block’, but Japanese whisky has been around since the early 1920’s – not long after the insurgence of Canadian and American spirits.
There are different styles and regional flavors of whiskeys all around the world – from English to Taiwanese, French and German, Spanish, Australian… the list goes on and on. As long as distillers keep honing their craft and perfecting their beverages, we’ll keep getting new and inventive varieties of whiskey.