Pour a dram and get down to whisky business

19 March, 2021

Your guide to different whisky styles (and what difference that little e in whiskey makes)

Whisky is one of the world’s most popular spirits, and different distillations are made around the world. It’s so popular that on 27 March, it’s International Whisk(e)y Day, so now is a good as time as any to pour a wee dram and learn more about whisky.

But first things first, we need to talk about that e. Well, essentially, if your whisky is from Scotland, Canada or Japan (and other countries, like a growing number of Aussie drops), there’s no e. But if it’s made in Ireland or the United States, it’s whiskey with an e. Ultimately though, the spelling doesn’t matter!

Classic whisky styles

Whisky is generally made from four grains: barley, corn, rye and wheat. These can be used alone or in combination, resulting in different styles. The details of how whisky is made is beyond the focus on this article, but if you want to nerd out over the fermentation and distillation process, take a visit to The Whiskey Muse for an easy to understand run down. 

But whisk(e)ys generally fall into the below categories:

  • Scotch whisky: This whisky comes from Scotland and has to be aged for at least three years in oak barrels. It’s usually distilled twice and there are six distinct Scotch regions, each with different styles, the most common being Highlands, Islay and Speyside. There are several strict classifications within Scotch whisky:
    • Single malt: Made only from malted barley, at a single distillery
    • Single grain: Made at a single distillery, but includes grains beyond malted barley
    • Blended malt: Blend of two or more single malt whiskies from different distilleries
    • Blended grain: A blend of two or more single grain whiskies from different distilleries
    • Blended Scotch: A blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains.

  • Irish whiskey: Obviously, from Ireland, and like Scotch, is aged for at least three years. Most Irish whiskey is triple distilled, and while the classifications are less rigid, it must be labelled if the whiskey is blended.

  • American whiskey: There are several categories of American whiskey with the most common three being:
    • Bourbon: Bourbon is made with a minimum 51% corn and is aged in charred, new oak barrels. It can be made anywhere in the United States.
    • Rye: American rye whiskey is made with a minimum 51% rye and is also aged in charred, new oak barrels.
    • Tennessee whiskey: An offshoot of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey is its own category and must be made in Tennessee. It goes through an additional charcoal filtering process.

  • Canadian whisky: Canadian whisky is often called a rye whisky, but it doesn’t have the same minimum requirements as American rye whiskey. It typically contains more corn than rye and is aged for a minimum of three years in 700-litre wooden barrels.

  • Japanese whisky: Japanese whisky is mostly made in the Scotch fashion and there are a range of single malt and blends on the market. Japanese whisky is usually considered to be light but nuanced.

  • Other whiskies: Whisky is made around the world, including Australia! Popular Australian distilled whiskies include Lark from Tasmania, Starward in Melbourne, and Sydney’s Archie Rose makes both a rye whisky and a single malt.

How to drink your whisky

There’s no rules on whisky, it’s a versatile drink that you can enjoy in any number of ways, including:

  • Neat: A straight dram of whisky
  • With water: Ask for water on the side so you can add as much or as little as you want
  • On the rocks: Whisky over ice (you might like to get a fancy big spherical ice mould that will melt more slowly)
  • Mixed: Mix your whisky with a mixer like Coke or dry ginger ale (note: please, please don’t do this with your very best top-shelf single malts – those babies deserve better)
  • In a cocktail: Classic whisky-based cocktails include the Sazerac, an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a Whiskey Sour

Where can I buy whisky around Chatswood?

BWS is the place to go if you’re looking for advice on what whisky to buy. They’ve got a great range from around the world, whether you’re after a premium Scottish single malt or just something a bit more accessible to mix with Coke or dry ginger ale.