By Jeff & Stephanie Sylva
Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye. Most people are somewhat familiar with these spirits. But then there are Irish Whiskey and Canadian Whisky and a whole host of other countries.
Let’s see if we can simplify things. First, the spelling: One commonly held school of thought is “whiskey” is used in the U.S. and Ireland, while “whisky” is used in every other whisky-producing country.
THE USA Let’s begin with American whiskeys, of which several types and some federal regulations are governing the distillation of American whiskeys. Bourbon whiskey must be produced from a mash that comprises at least 51 percent corn, and like most American whiskeys, must be distilled to no more than 80 percent alcohol by volume (note: this is not the final bottle proof) and barreled at no more than 125 proof. Only water may be added, with no coloring or flavoring. And as with all the American whiskeys, except corn whiskey (often referred to as moonshine) and Tennessee whiskey, they must be aged in new charred oak barrels.
Let’s clear up one misconception about Bourbon. Some may insist that Bourbon has to be made in Kentucky—it doesn’t. Just look at the proliferation of micro-distilleries opening throughout the U.S. and the many fine Bourbons they are creating. But if they want to put Bourbon on their label, they must follow the regulations mentioned above, and they can’t call it “Kentucky Bourbon.”
SCOTLAND Like the U.S., Scotland has government regulations for production of Scotch whisky. The two most significant being that the whisky must be distilled in Scotland (seems reasonable considering the label is using the term “Scotch”), and the spirit must be aged a minimum of three years in oak casks. Although the process that gives Scotch its distinctive flavor is a closely guarded secret, much is attributed to Scottish distilleries’ soft water and the introduction of peat in the kiln or oven in which the malt is dried, giving the malt its distinctive smoky flavor.
CANADA This whisky style includes the very popular Crown Royal, Canadian Club, and Seagram’s brands. It must be produced and aged in Canada, be distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain, and be aged in wood barrels for not less than three years. There are few other restrictions beyond these.
IRELAND Finally, another famous whiskey in the U.S. is Irish Whiskey. Typically distilled three times, Irish Whiskey must be produced in Ireland and be aged in wooden casks for no less than three years (although it is relatively longer than that). Unpeated malt (you know the Irish have to distinguish themselves from the Brits or Scots) is almost always used.