The two most common American whiskeys are bourbon and Tennessee whiskey and can be made from a variety of grains. Corn is the dominant ingredient used and must be at least 51% of the mash to be labeled a “straight whiskey.” Straight corn whiskey is the exception – it must contain at least 80% corn. Bourbon must be produced with at least 51% corn and aged in a new charred oak barrel for a minimum of two years. Other whiskey sub-styles differ and allow used oak barrels in aging. The new oak imparts a sweet, vanilla, toasted caramel flavour. Tennessee whiskey is made in the same manner as bourbon, but must be filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to aging.
Canadian whisky is often known as “rye” since historically the rye grain was a dominant flavouring component. Today a variety of recipes exist that include the use of corn, wheat, and barley. Canadian distillers produce and age each grain separately, then blend the aged whiskies together to create the desired flavour profile, which is typically soft and light. It is ideal for mixing or pouring over ice.
All Scotch whisky is made from malted barley and aged in Scotland for no less than three years in an oak barrel. Scotch is double-distilled and often uses peated malt to impart a smoky flavour. Two main types of barrels used are American oak and French oak, which impart different nuances into the whisky as the spirit ages. Scotch can be single malt or a blend. Single malts are produced from 100% malted barley from one single distillery. A Scotch blend is made by combining whiskies from various distilleries and can be a blend of malted barley and grain whisky.
Irish whiskey is distilled from a fermented mash of grains, including malted & unmalted barley, corn, rye, wheat, and oats. It is different than Scotch in that Irish whiskey uses unpeated malt and is triple-distilled before aging a minimum of four years in oak barrels. The whiskey that results is light and fruity, with some leathery, earthy overtones.