We’re breaking down the differences between whiskey, bourbon, Irish whiskey and Scotch. Don’t forget to take notes–this will be on your dram exam.
Whiskey has been one of the world’s most popular spirits for centuries. It was used as currency during the American Revolution, and George Washington once operated the largest distillery in the U.S.
International whiskey sales have been soaring for years. More people, particularly women, are embracing whiskey for sipping–not just for shooting. The revival of classic mixed drinks and the rise of craft cocktails has also spurred that growth.
Now that you’re caught up, let’s explore the world of whiskey one spirit at a time:
- Or “whisky” as it’s spelled everywhere except for Ireland and America.
- Made from fermented grain mash and typically aged in white oak wooden casks.
- Single malt whiskey comes from one distillery using only one malted grain mash. Blended malt whiskey is a mixture of single malt whiskies from different distilleries.
- Straight rye whiskey is bold and can be somewhat spicy and dry compared to bourbon. Rye is the preferred whiskey in most classic cocktails.
- Most often associated with Kentucky, bourbon is America’s most popular style of whiskey.
- Barrel-aged for at least two years, generally double distilled, and primarily produced from corn.
- The best bourbons comprise hundreds of identifiable flavors–from bold grain and sweet aromatics to spicy, fruity and floral notes.
- Bourbon is full-bodied and smooth, featuring sweeter, softer notes than rye whiskey.
- The world’s fastest growing spirit for 30 years with Jameson leading the charge.
- The earliest mention of Irish whiskey dates back to 1405, reportedly causing the death of a drunken chieftain.
- Founded in 1608, the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.
- Known for its silky-smooth finish, Irish whiskey is usually blended, triple distilled and unpeated to achieve its creamy texture and accessible taste.
- Aged in oak barrels for at least 3 years and typically features peat for earthy smokiness.
- The first evidence of Scotch whisky traces back to 1494, when King James ordered the production of 500 bottles. Today, Scotland exports a billion bottles every year.
- The United States is by far the largest export market for Scotch, but due to its strong bite and complex flavors, Scotch is not for the average drinker.
- Scotch is produced by over 100 distilleries across five regions of Scotland, and each has its own distinct style. The most peat-forward varieties come from Islay, so if you’re not a fan of smoky whisky, you should steer clear.