Whisky Basics

Whisk(e)y Cheat Sheet

  • Malt Whisky is made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still.
  • Grain Whisky is made from malted and unmalted barley along with other grains, usually in a continuous “Patent” or “Coffey” still. It is used primarily in blends.
  • Single malt whisky is from a single distillery. It can contain malts from different years. The age on the bottle will be the youngest malt. In most cases, the name of a single malt will be that of the distillery, and the whisky will have a taste recognizable for this distillery.
  • Blended malt (Vatted Malt) is blended from malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labeled “pure malt” or just “malt” it is almost certain to be a blended malt whisky.
  • Blended whiskies are made from a mixture of malt and grain whiskies, and typically come from many distilleries. A whisky simply described as Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey is most likely to be a blend.
  • Pure Pot Still (Single Pot Still) is a mash mix of malted barley and unmalted barley. It is currently an exclusive style to Ireland.
  • Cask strength whiskies are rare and usually only the very best whiskies are bottled in this way. They are bottled from the cask undiluted. The drinker dilutes the whisky to the level of potency most palatable.
  • Bourbon is an American Whiskey made from at least 51% corn. Typically 66% or more. Aged in new charred oak barrels. Straight Bourbon has been aged at least two years.
  • Tennessee Whiskey follows same rules as bourbon in addition to being filtered through large vats of sugar-maple charcoal, which gives it a definitively sweet characteristic.
  • Rye whiskey (American) is at least 51% rye and aged in new charred oak barrels.
  • Corn whiskey is at least 80% corn and has no age requrements.
  • “Scotch” is distilled in Scotland twice, and matured for a minimum of 3 years. Scotch whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown, and have different tastes and aromas. Single malt Scotch is the most highly prized.
    • The Lowlands: Light and fresh.
    • The Highlands: Smooth and floral.
    • Speyside: Fruity and delicate.
    • Islands (Islay and Skye): Peaty and Maritime.
  • Irish whiskey is produced exclusively in Ireland and matured for a minimum of 3 years. Typically distilled 3 times or Pure Pot Still.
  • Canadian whisky is produced strictly in Canada from a fermented mash of cereal grain and must be aged in small wood for minimum of 3 years. Due to the malted rye component, these whiskies are very light.