Types of Whiskey: A Rundown of Flavors in the World of Whiskey
Written by Emma C | Updated May 2023
Many people find it a bit intimidating to order a whiskey at a bar or restaurant. With the many bottles and types out there, this is more than understandable – especially if you’re new to the spirit. There really is so much to explore, from the spicy wonders of rye whiskey to the smooth allure of Canadian whisky and the emerging expressions from distilleries around the world. To help you on your journey, we’ve created this guide to the various types of whiskey you can choose from. We’ve got Scotches, American whiskies like bourbon, and more, all with different backgrounds, makers, flavor profiles, and overall character. Thanks to the wide choice, you’re guaranteed something to enjoy here, no matter your taste or flavor preference.
Types of Whiskey
Scotch must be distilled, aged, and bottled in Scotland, typically in one of five specific regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay, or Speyside. The spirit is aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years. This Scotch whisky type receives its smoky character from peat – a dense moss lit on fire to dry the malted barley. As a result, Scotch’s flavor profile is more complex than other whiskies, especially when you start cataloging differences between single and blended malts.
We love Scotch brands like Glendronach, Aberfeldy, and Bowmore. Indulge in the luxurious Glendronach Revival Aged 15 Years or sip and savor the laid back Aberfeldy 12 Year Highland single malts, or go for the Bowmore 15 Year Old Islay single malt with its long, smoky finish.
The Glendronach Revival Aged 15 Years
In flavour, the expression offers sumptuous notes of dark fruits, rich chocolate and manuka honey with an enveloping, memorable finish worthy of this monumental malt’s history. This luxuriously sherried Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky is bottled at 46% ABV and natural in colour.Buy Now
Aberfeldy 12 Year
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old single malt scotch whisky is a honeyed dram with notes of fruit, spices, lots of vanilla and just a hint of smoke.Buy Now
Bowmore 15 Year Old
Matured first in bourbon barrels then Oloroso casks, there's no finer example of a sherry cask finish than our 15 Year Old. It's the final three years spent in Oloroso sherry casks that gives Bowmore 15 Year Old the rich, deep color and robust warming finish.
American whiskey is any whiskey distilled in the United States. Some of these, such as rye, wheat, and corn whiskies, are made with at least 51% of said grain. And two are unique only to the US: bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. We’ll get into each type, below.
Bourbon is usually made in Kentucky, but technically, it can be distilled anywhere in the US. There are many types of bourbon, each with specific characteristics. Producers of this type of whiskey must adhere to a few things in order to use the name bourbon, such as making it in the US with at least 51% corn. Once this is combined with the rest of the base ingredients – usually malted barley, rye, or wheat – yeast and water are added and the mixture is prepared for fermentation. It then gets strained prior to distillation, before being aged and bottled.
Bourbon tends to have a sweeter flavor than other styles of whiskey, with notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel. Some have intense flavors of baking spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, while others may taste more grainy.
If you’re looking for some fantastic bourbon, some top brands we recommend include Henry McKenna, Noah’s Mill, and Elijah Craig. Henry McKenna’s Single Barrel is aged for 10 years and perfectly balanced, Noah's Mill Small Batch Kentucky Straight bourbon is super lush and rich, and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight bourbon is made pure, uncut, straight from the barrel, and without chill filtering.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel
This high proof, Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon was named for Henry McKenna, the Irish immigrant who adapted his family's whiskey recipe to work with the grains he found in Kentucky. Henry McKenna is one of the longest aged Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys available today, resting in the barrel through 40 Kentucky seasons. Critics agree that this is perfectly balanced Bourbon.
One of the most lush and rich Whiskeys on the market. The nose is walnuts, prunes, and floral notes. The palate mimics the nose with walnuts, prunes, spices, intertwined with lavender and balanced with the perfect amount of acid, that leads you down a path of lingering burnt caramel.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
To sip Barrel Proof is to experience Bourbon in its purest form: uncut, straight from the barrel, and without chill filtering. Each bottle is hand labeled with its unique proof and batch number; but the nose, taste, and finish are pure Elijah Craig.
Tennessee whiskey is considered a subtype of bourbon, lawfully produced in Tennessee. This type of American whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before being aged with a method called the Lincoln County Process. The process mellows out some of the harshness and gives the drink its unique flavor. You’ll taste some of the same toasted oak, caramel, and vanilla notes found in other whiskies with a hint of charcoal or burnt wood.
Rye whiskey contains at least 51% rye in its mash bill. If produced in the US, rye must be aged in newly charred oak barrels (like bourbon). As a result, rye is lighter-bodied than many other whiskies, often characterized by its tingly spiciness. Bitter and peppery like rye bread, rye whiskey packs a flavorful punch and used to be the American whiskey.
Liquor labeled “straight whiskey” is aged in new, charred oak for at least two years. It is any type of whiskey not classified as another American whiskey type like rye, bourbon, malt, or wheat.
On the other hand, you might see a term like “straight bourbon whiskey”. In this case, it means the product meets the specific requirements of both the whiskey type it was produced as (bourbon) and of straight whiskey (aged in new, charred oak for at least two years).
Corn / white whiskey (moonshine)
Corn whiskey and white whiskey are essentially the same thing. These raw, unaged whiskies are made primarily from corn mash and distilled to a maximum of 160 proof. White whiskey is also classified as moonshine because it is unaged, clear, and very strong. If you can get past the alcohol strength, you might detect floral and sweet notes of the fermented corn.
Wheat whiskey is primarily made of wheat grains. Filled with honey, vanilla, dried berries, spice, and toffee flavors, wheat whiskies are some of the smoothest whiskies around. They’re also known for their subtle sweetness, which helps them go down soft and easy.
Single-malt whiskey comes from a single distillery and only contains one type of malted grain. A single-malt whiskey bottle may include whiskey from several different casks unless it’s a single-cask whiskey. The goal with a single malt is to achieve distinctive flavors that exemplify a single distillery’s style, but the flavor profiles range significantly across various regions.
Blended whiskey is a mixture of one or more higher-quality, straight or single malt whiskies with other spirits and possibly other ingredients. Blended whiskies can also be made from single malts from more than one distillery.
Compass Box and Big Peat make excellent blended whiskies. Try The Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, which combines single malt and single grain whiskies in rich, deep, full, and soft flavors, or Prohibition 2020 Limited Edition, a cask-strength Islay Blended Malt created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revoke of Prohibition in the US.
Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard
Compass Box blends Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies of the highest quality to create textures, flavors, and experiences that no solitary whisky can attain. Compass Box's The Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is a sumptuous malt blend showcasing whiskies aged in Spanish sherry wine casks. It’s a whisky ideal for late evening sipping or stirring into a cocktail.
Ardbeg 10 Years Old
Ardbeg Ten Years Old is revered around the world as the peatiest, smokiest, most complex single malt of them all. Yet it does not flaunt the peat; rather it gives way to the natural sweetness of the malt to produce a whisky of perfect balance. Named World Whisky of the Year in 2008.
To qualify as Irish whiskey, a spirit must be produced from malt, cereal grain, and barley and distilled, aged, and bottled in Ireland. It must then be aged in wooden casks for a minimum of three years. Irish whiskey’s more subtle malt character is heightened most when the spirit is aged in less conventional barrels like sherry or rum casks.
Some of our favorite Irish whiskey brands include Redbreast and Glendalough.Try Redbreast’s 12-Year-Old Single Pot Irish Whiskey, with its copper pot triple-distilled malted and unmalted barley mash turned to complex, full flavors. Or, Glendalough’s Double Barrel Irish Whiskey, which offer sweet, smooth vanilla notes, along with dried fruit and Spanish oak spices.
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength
This cask strength expression gives a glimpse of Redbreast 12 in its natural, full flavoured taste.
Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey
This globally awarded, single grain whiskey has been aged twice – first in American oak Bourbon barrels and again in Spanish oak Oloroso Sherry barrels. It will make you think twice about Irish whiskey. While the Bourbon barrels brings a sweetness and smooth vanilla notes, the Oloroso casks layer on depth of dried fruit and Spanish oak spices.
This type of whiskey must be produced and aged in Canada, be aged in wooden barrels for at least three years, and be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV. Canadian whisky is often rye, so it can be spicy. Others have notes of brown sugar, oak, and vanilla. This whiskey type can also contain caramel and other flavorings, offering diverse flavor profiles.
We love Canadian whisky brands like Crown Royal and Three Fingers High. Try Crown Royal’s XO smooth and complex whiskey, which is finished in cognac casks and has beautiful vanilla, spice, and dried fruit flavors. You’ll also love Three Fingers High’s 12 Year limited edition rye whisky, with its cinnamon, spice, and nutmeg notes and long, deep finish,
Japanese whisky is bottled in Japan, but it isn’t necessarily distilled or aged there. It’s modeled after the Scotch tradition of double distilling malted and/or peated barley before aging it in wood barrels often made of indigenous Japanese oak. These whiskies tend to be drier, smokier, and peatier than others and come as single malts or blends.
Some amazing Japanese whisky brands include Yamazaki and Hakushu. Be sure to check out Yamazaki 12 Year Old for an exceptional whisky experience. Don't miss the opportunity to discover the exceptional qualities of Hakushu 12 Years Old, a delightful Japanese whisky that offers a unique and memorable tasting experience.
Yamazaki 12 Year Old
The Yamazaki Whisky is Suntory's flagship single malt whisky, from Japan’s first and oldest malt distillery. With a range of options from Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve to 12, 18, and 25 years old, all of these prized whiskies contain carefully blended components aged in American, Spanish, and Japanese Mizunara oak.
Hakushu 12 Years Old
Straight from the untouched forests, mountains, and pure waters of the Southern Japanese Alps, it is no wonder that Hakushu is a green and fresh whisky, praised by the most curious whisky connoisseurs and lovers of gastronomy. Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt, enlivens and liberates your senses.Buy Now
With so many types of whiskey around the world and the drink being made in over 25 countries, the spirit offers plenty of variety and choice. From the handful of American whiskey expressions to Canadian whisky and classic Scotch, each with its own production methods, traditions, ingredients, and flavor characteristics, there’s something for every preference and palate. But, if you find this a bit overwhelming and aren’t sure where to begin, don’t worry. We have a great Whiskey club that makes it incredibly easy. Just sign up, sit back, relax, and wait for a new bottle each month.