Whiskey FAQ

WHAT IS WHISK(E)Y?

Whiskey is made from grain. This is what distinguishes it from other distilled beverages.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “WHISKEY” & “WHISKY”

The spelling whisky is generally used in Scotland, England, Wales, Canada, Japan and Australia, while whiskey is more common in Ireland and the United States. Some writers refer to “whisk(e)y” or “whisky/whiskey” to acknowledge the variation

WHAT IS AMERICAN WHISKEY?

Unless the whiskey is labeled as blended, the whiskey must be distilled to not more than 80% ABV to ensure that the flavor of the original mash is adequately retained, and the addition of coloring, caramel and flavoring additives is prohibited. All of these except corn whiskey must be aged in charred new oak containers. These restrictions do not exist for some similarly named products in some other countries. American corn whiskey does not have to be aged at all – but, if it is aged, it must be aged in used or un-charred oak barrels. In practice, if corn whiskey is aged it usually is aged in used bourbon barrels.

Some key types listed in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations are:

WHAT IS AMERICAN RYE?

According to the United States government, rye whiskey sold in the United States must meet these requirements:

  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% rye.
  • Aged in new charred-oak barrels.
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof, or 80% alcohol by volume (ABV). In practice, most rye is distilled out at a lower proof than this.
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at a proof no higher than 125 (62.5% ABV).
  • Bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% ABV).

Rye needs to be, as noted, 51% rye. The remaining 49% includes other grains. Usually, those grains include corn, wheat, malted rye, and malted barley, in any combination. Some distilleries, though, have experimented with rice, oats, and other grains. In ryes from large producers, though, the proportions are typically about 51% rye, 39% corn, and 10% malted barley.

Like bourbon, the rules on rye require the use of new charred-oak barrels. This allows the barrel to impart more of its own flavors of oak, caramel, and vanilla into the whiskey than you get with Scotch, which generally uses second-hand barrels.

WHAT IS AMERICAN BOURBON?

According to U.S. federal regulations, bourbon must be made from 51% corn, aged in new charred white oak barrels, and must be bottled at at least 80 proof (40% alcohol). “Straight” bourbons are generally aged for four years or more, unless they’re otherwise labeled. Bourbon is known for its sweet caramel and vanilla flavors, and darker, reddish color. Many of the traditional brands are made in the areas surrounding the Ohio river in Northern and Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana, though local distilleries all over the country distill in this style.

According to the US Federal regulations, bourbon made for US consumption must be:

  • Produced in the United State
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
  • Aged in new, charred oak barrels
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof 80% ABV
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof
  • Bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more

Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period. Products aged for as little as three months are sold as bourbon. The exception is straight bourbon, which has a minimum aging requirement of two years. In addition, any straight bourbon aged less than 4 years must state the age of the spirit on the bottle.

Bourbon that meets the above requirements, has been aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may (but is not required to) be called straight bourbon.

  • Bourbon that is labeled as straight that has been aged under four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
  • Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (not counting the age of any added neutral grain spirits in bourbon that is labeled as blended, as neutral-grain spirits are not considered whiskey under the regulations and are not required to be aged at all).

Bourbon that is labeled blended (or as a blend) may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits (such as un-aged neutral grain spirits); but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon.

ARE ALL RYES WHISK(E)Y?

All Rye is Whisk(e)y… All Bourbon is Whiskey… All Scotch is Whisky… All Blended Whisk(e)y is Whisk(e)y…But not all Whiskey is Rye… Confused???

WHY DO PEOPLE ASSOCIATE RYE WHISKEY WITH CANADA?

Canadian whisky was traditionally a high-rye product, with a fairly large amount of rye in the mash bill, although not necessarily a majority. It therefore became known in the shorthand as “rye.” However, to call Canadian whisky “rye” is somewhat misleading, for not all Canadian products have a high amount of rye in them—or, to be accurate, any rye at all. There are a couple of Canadian ryes that are primarily or entirely made of rye grain, but they’re the exception.