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The 8 Different Types of Whiskey Explained

There is an endless selection of spirits behind the bar and on the liquor store shelves. Choosing the kinds and brands that are best for you can be a daunting task to say the least. Whiskey alone has eight different varieties to choose from.

Glasses of whiskey with ice on wooden table

It might be worth discussing the various types of whiskey, where they are from and how to tell the difference between them. We’ll be talking about methods of making, legalities, as well as the final taste and the overall flavor.

Types of Whiskey

  1. Scotch Whisky
  2. Irish Whiskey
  3. Canadian Whisky
  4. European Whiskey

Scotch Whisky

This whisky is distilled in Scotland, which is a legal qualification for this stuff to be given the name Scotch. It comes in 5 different sub-genres: malt, single malt, blended malt, blended malt grain and blended scotch whisky.

Scotch whisky is made from malted barley or grain and has a much more punchy and sour flavor than other types of whisky. This is aged in the barrel for a minimum of 3 years.


Irish Whiskey

Jameson Irish whiskey bottle

This is made from yeast-fermented grain mash or a mash of malted cereals. It takes a minimum of 3 years to reach maturity. It has a very smooth finish and is often enjoyed neat.


Canadian Whisky

Like Irish and Scotch whisky, Canadian whisky must be aged with a three year minimum and exclusively within Canada and in wood barrels no bigger than 700 liters, whether they are new, old, charred or uncharred, it is not required. The spirit also must be mashed & distilled in Canada. Alcohol content of the spirits used may exceed 90%, so it’s usually blended down to more drinkable levels.

Crown Royal is a blended Canadian whisky
Crown Royal is a blended Canadian whisky

By blending a whisky down from 90% to 40% might lose some of the natural color and flavors from the grain, which is why Canadian whisky is permitted to add caramel coloring and artificial flavoring. When it is bottled in the end, it must to be at least 40% alcohol by volume. And that is all folks. These are the legal requirements for Canadian whisky.


European Whiskey

This next whiskey has various categories and brands within it that we don’t have the page-space to discuss here. It is distilled from fermented grain mash and contains barley, corn, rye and wheat. This is aged in a wooden cask for around 3 years and has a very distinctive oaky finish.


Bourbon Whiskey

bourbon whiskey in a glass

This next whiskey has a slightly softer finish and might definitely be a starting point for most whiskey novices. This is made from corn and does not contain many additives. This is a great drink for anyone who is watching their calorie intake, being very lean on carbs, unlike beer or wine. Bourbon whiskey is exclusively made in the United States and must be at least 51% corn mash, aged in new charred oak barrels and nothing extra added like flavors or color.


Tennessee Whiskey

This is very much like bourbon whiskey, except that it is only distilled in the grand old state of Tennessee. The main difference between this and bourbon is the filtering system. Tennessee whiskey uses charcoal, which is what accounts for its distinctive smokey taste.


Rye Whiskey

This next whiskey is very fruity and spicy, with a rye content that can go no lower than 51%. It is mainly manufactured and distilled in North America and it has to age in a barrel for at least 2 years.


Japanese Whisky

This next whiskey uses double peated barley and malt, aged in a wooden cask. This whiskey is drier and smokier than a lot of other whiskies that you can find on the market. Needless to say, this one is primarily distilled in Japan and can be imported to Europe and America for a very high price.

Japanese whisky bottles, The Yamazaki, The Chita and Hibiki
Japanese whisky bottles, The Yamazaki, The Chita and Hibiki

Final Thoughts

There you have it. That’s a list of some of the best whiskies that you can find on the market. Now that you know the difference, you might be able to make a more educated guess as to what you want when you are purchasing your next spirit.

Now we’ll move on to some of the best brands of whiskey. We have chosen a few from each category listed above, giving you plenty of options when it comes to relaxing by the fire with a warm spirit.

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.