Whisky is an alcoholic drink produced by distilling fermented grain mash. Different kinds of grain are used to brew, including malt, malts, wheat, and corn.
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Is it Whiskey or Whisky?
Whiskey is typically spelled with an “e” in the United States and Ireland, while whisky is spelled without the “e” in Scotland and Canada.
For example, in Ireland, the whiskey produced by distilleries is spelled with an “e”—as in Jameson Irish Whiskey. Meanwhile, in Scotland, whisky produced by distilleries is spelled without an “e”—as in Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky.
Who Invented Whisky?
The answer is complicated, because the history of whisky is long and shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that the origins of distillation are thought to have originated in the Middle East.
From there, the art of distillation spread to Europe via the Moors, and eventually made its way to Scotland by way of Christian missionary monks.
Monks began fermenting grain mash to produce whisky as a way to make use of leftover grains. After the dissolution of monasteries in England, whiskey production shifted to the general public.
European colonists later brought whiskey-making practices to America.
Scots and Irishmen debate over who invented whisky – the Irish claim it was introduced to Scotland by monks returning from Arabia in 600 AD, while the Scots claim it was discovered independently in the Highlands. There is evidence that Vikings may have brought a version of whisky to Scotland in 400 AD.
However, the first written record of whisky production in Scotland comes from Ireland in 1405. The word ‘whisky’ is derived from Gaelic words that mean “water of life.” This name was given to the spirit because of its supposed health benefits. Today, whisky is enjoyed all over the world for its distinct flavor and unique history.
There are many different types of whiskies produced all over the world.
In Scotland, there are five main categories of whisky: single malt Scotch, blended malt Scotch, blended Scotch, single grain Scotch, and blended grain Scotch.
The Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon
To be classified as scotch, the spirit must be made from malted barley (although other grains can be used), must be distilled in Scotland using pot stills, and must spend a minimum of three years maturing in oak casks. The water used to make scotch must also come from Scotland.
Single malt scotch is made from 100% malted barley and must be distilled at a single distillery. Blended malt scotch (also called “vatted malt” or “pure malt”) is a blend of multiple single malt scotches from different distilleries.
Scotch whiskies are typically associated with smoky flavors due to the peat used to smoke the barley during the malting process. The length of time that the scotch spends maturing also plays a role in its flavor profile; longer maturation periods tend to result in smoother, more complex spirits.
In order for a spirit to be classified as bourbon, it must be made in the United States (although it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, as many people believe), must be made from at least 51% corn, must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume), must be aged in new charred oak barrels, and cannot contain any added flavoring or coloring agents.
Bourbon that has been aged for two years or less can be sold as “straight bourbon.” Anything aged for longer than four years must be labeled as “aged.” Bourbons aged for exactly four years fall into their own category and can be labeled as either “straight” or “aged.”
Bourbon has a reputation for being sweeter than other types of whiskeys due to the high corn content of the mash bill. However, the type of barrel used for aging can also influence the flavor of the final product.
Top Whiskey Producing Countries
The United States is by far the largest producer of whiskey in the world. In 2018, American distilleries produced over 1.4 billion liters of whiskey. The vast majority of this whiskey is produced in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
American whiskey is typically made with a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn. Common varieties include bourbon, rye whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey.
Ireland is widely considered to be the birthplace of whiskey. Irish monks brought the art of distillation over from continental Europe in the 12th century, and the first documented instance of whiskey production in Ireland dates back to 1405.
Today, there are more than 30 active distilleries in Ireland producing a wide variety of whiskeys. Some of the most popular brands of Irish whiskey include Bushmills, Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and Redbreast.
Scotland is perhaps best known for its Scotch whisky (spelled without the “e”), which must be produced entirely in Scotland according to strict regulations set forth by Scottish law. Single malt Scotch whisky is made exclusively from malted barley, while blended Scotch whisky is made by blending together single malt and grain whiskies. Some of the best-known brands of Scotch whisky include Johnnie Walker, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Talisker.
Japan has a rich history of alcohol production dating back centuries, but Japanese whisky only became popular globally within the last few decades. Japanese producers emulate Scottish methods as closely as possible when making their whisky, even going so far as to import Scottish barley and peat for use in their mashes.
Although Japan is not traditionally known for its whiskey production, a growing number of distilleries are popping up throughout the country. The most popular variety of Japanese whiskey is called Suntory, which is made from barley and other grains. Other popular varieties include Nikka Whiskey and Hanyu Ichiro’s Malt Whisky.
Canadian whiskey is typically made using a mash bill that contains at least 51% rye, but barley or other grains are often used as well. Canadian whiskeys can be broadly divided into two categories: blended Canadian whiskey, which contains a mix of grain whiskies (typically light and medium in terms of alcohol content), and “straight” or single-grain Canadian whiskey, which is typically made from corn.
Although many people associate whisky with Scotland, the truth is that this popular spirit is produced all over the world. In Germany, for example, there are 23 active whisky distilleries. German whiskey production only dates back to the 1990s, but the country’s producers have quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality spirits.
Because of Germany’s diverse climate and geographical regions, German whiskies can vary widely in taste and character. Whether you’re looking for a smoky single malt or a fruity blended whisky, you’re sure to find a German whisky that suits your taste.
Finland has a long history of producing whiskey, dating back to the early 1980s. The first Finnish whiskey distillery was established in 1981, and there are currently four operational distilleries in the country. Finnish whiskey is typically lighter in color and flavor than other types of whiskey, such as Scotch whiskey. It is also lower in alcohol content, typically around 40% ABV.
Taiwan has only one whiskey distillery called Kavalan. The water for the whiskey comes from the Snow Mountain which is pure and clean. The climate in Taiwan is also perfect for whiskey because of the hot summers and cold winters. The hot summers help the aging process and the cold winters add extra flavor. The barrels that the whiskey is aged in are made of American oak.
Australia is home to 26 whisky distilleries, spread across the country. The first distillery was established in 1992 on Tasmania island, and there are now distilleries in every state and territory. Each region has its own distinct style of whisky, influenced by the local climate and ingredients.
Whiskey is a truly global spirit with a rich history dating back centuries. Today there are countless different varieties available – each with its own unique flavor profile influenced by regional ingredients and production methods. If you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond the typical American bourbon or Scotch whisky, why not give one (or all!) of these top-producing countries a try?