What's Whisky Made From

What's Whisky Made From
The simplest definition of whisky is that it’s a distilled alcoholic beverage made from malted grain -- but the full answer to that question is a little more complicated.

One of the first things you learn when you discover the wonderful world of whiskies is just how many unique varieties are available. It’s helpful to understand something about the major categories.

Scotch or Scottish Whisky

From Scotland, Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Though originally all Scotch was made from malted barley, today you can find fine Scotch made from wheat or rye as well. There are several varieties of Scotch whisky, depending on the type of grain and whether different types of grains or whiskies are blended together.


A single malt Scotch is made from malted barley. Some single malts are made from a single batch barley malt, but others are blended with other single malts as long as the blend is from the same distillery. Single malt blends may even be blended with single grain whiskies as long as the distillery is the same. Despite ‘single’ being in the name, different barrels may be used and, in fact, whiskies from different years may be combined, a strategy that’s used to enhance flavour when a much older whisky is added to a blend.


In the same way that a single malt must originate from the same distillery, a single grain whisky may contain a combination of any number of non-barley grains that have been distilled together as long as it is made in the same place.


A single barrel whisky comes from one barrel in one year. These single vintage whiskies produce very few bottles and, as a result, a good single barrel whisky may be highly sought after.


Some Scotch whiskies are made from malt whiskies that come from multiple distilleries. In a blended malt, you won’t find any grain whisky.


A blended whisky may contain a blend of malts and grains from multiple distilleries. These blends may have rich and complex flavour profiles as a result of the variety of malt and grain sources.

American Whiskey

American whiskey must have been aged for a minimum of two years. American whiskies are made of a fermented mash of cereal grains with the particular type of whisky being named for the type of grain that makes up at least 51% of the beverage.


Must contain at least 51% corn and the remainder can be any combination of grains distilled together. One of the things that makes bourbon unique is that it must be aged in virgin charred oak barrels.


As you’d expect, rye grain must be the primary grain in a rye whiskey. The balance of the rye whiskey can be made up of a combination of distilled grains. The final mix must be aged in virgin charred oak barrels.


Other American whiskey varieties include corn whiskey (at least 80% corn), malt whiskey (51% malted barley), and rye malt whiskey (51% malted rye). Americans also produce Scottish styles of whiskey, whiskeys that follow Scotch rules.


Bourbon is made at a single distillery in one distillation season and has been aged for at least four years in a federally bonded and supervised warehouse. A bottled in bond whiskey is bottled at 50%.


Using non-virgin barrels makes bourbon or straight rye designations impossible. If other barrels are used, the whiskey is called finished rye or American whiskey. Angel’s Envy, for example, finishes their bourbon in ruby port casks and their rye whiskey in rum barrels.

Irish Whiskey

Aged for a minimum 3yrs, Irish whiskey has two unique styles in addition to the types of whiskies produced in Scotland.


Using 100% barley, the distinctive spicy character of a single pot still whiskey comes from the inclusion of some un-malted barley in addition to the more common malted barley.


Traditionally, poitin was made from some combination of fermented and distilled grain, whey, sugar beet, molasses, treacle or potatoes. An un-aged Irish whisky, the quality of poitin, like moonshine, varied widely.

Canadian Whisky

Canadian whisky must be mashed, distilled and aged for at least three years in Canada. Because rye is so often added to whisky blends, Canadian whisky is sometimes referred to as rye, rye whisky, or Canadian rye whisky.


In Canada, it’s common to create a mash bill after distillation. Instead of distilling a blend of corn, barley and rye together, Canadians often blend 100% rye, corn and barley spirit after distillation. Often rye-heavy, Canadian whiskies are known for being robust, smooth and flavourful.

A World of Whiskies

These are some of the best-known whiskies, but many other countries in the world are also producing some excellent varieties. Japan, India, South Africa, Austria, Belgium and Australia are just a few places where fine whiskies are being produced.

Whisky Loot’s subscription service delivers samples of the world’s best whiskies to your door each month, letting you taste some of these fabulous whiskies without leaving home.

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