Now that you know the basics, the next step to no longer being a complete Philistine is to learn whisky language.
Next, to legally become whisk(e)y, all grain spirit is required to spend a minimum period maturing in oak barrels. Different countries have different rules and In Scotland, for example, it is three years while in Australia it’s two years.
There are three types of “Scotch” style whisky; blended, grain and single malt, blended making up the biggest volume of the three, grain the least and single malt growing increasingly popular by the day.
Grain whisky is whisky made from a variety of grains, typically barley, wheat or maize and distilled in a column or reflux still (more on that later), which means that it is basically unfiltered grain vodka that has been aged in an oak barrel for three years. It’s very cheap to produce, is made in huge volumes and is the backbone of blended whisky. These whiskies are fairly uncommon as standalone bottling.
Malt whisky is made strictly from malted barley and twice or three times distilled in a traditional copper pot still. A single malt is a whisky that’s been made and bottled by one single distillery, or in very simple terms “a malt whisky from a single distillery”. Examples include Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan.
The Irish typically produce “similar” style whiskey to Scotland in the sense that they use traditional potstill, have a mix of blends and malts and a uniquely Irish variant of a malt whiskey called Pure Pot Still, which is basically single malt whiskey made of a mix of malted and unmated barley. The Irish also favour triple distillation over double.
We don’t typically do traditional American and Canadian whiskey at the Club, but it’s useful to know some basics at least. Overall the key difference here is that while the above whisk(e)ys have a common theme of distilling a single grain and then blending the resulting spirits, American and Canadian whisky is usually made with a combined mash right from the start. In other words, instead of making separate whiskies from various grains and then blending these, they brew the wash from a combination of grains. The recipe is known as a mash bill.