What are the types of Whisky?
Whatever your flavour, whisky makes for a versatile, year-round drink with a number of possibilities when it comes to flavours and brewing styles. However, if we were to break down whisky into their individual types, there are a few standouts, with key factors of region, grains used, and the individual process of distillation.
So how exactly do you tell your single malt apart from your blended whiskies? And what the hell is barrel proof whisky? To help you better understand your taste for whisky, and help you find that perfect batch, read on to hear about each type of whisky, what sets it apart from the others, and what distinctive tastes you can expect from each.
What are the main types of whisky?
While sometimes convoluted among regions, the baseline types of whisky can be pinned down into six groups: Single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended whisky, single cask, or barrel proof. Each country will have different variations of these types, with some regions only producing one or two types of whisky, while others will produce all six.
Single Malt Whisky
As the name suggests, single malt whisky uses only a single type of malted grain. It also typically comes from only one distillery. During the distilling period, whisky can move around between distilleries quite a lot to achieve the desired consistency and flavour.
Single malt whisky tends to be made in just the one distillery and is typically made from malted barley, but it can be made using other malted grains. In the UK, the regulations around whisky distillation are quite strict, limiting single malts to only malted barley with specifications surrounding the process of brewing. As such, single malts around the world are known to have quite distinct tastes, making them a favoured type of whisky among drinkers.
Single grain is very similar to single malt in the general process of distilling, however, instead of using malted barley, single grain is made from 100% corn, wheat, or rye. Single grain whiskey doesn’t require the grain to be malted, however it is still distilled in a single distillery. In most cases for single grain whisky, the final product will usually be used as a base for blended whiskies such as Johnny Walker.
Blended Malt Whisky
As the name suggests, blended malt whisky is a combination of single malt whiskies that have been made in different distilleries. Blended malt whisky is not the same as blended whisky; rather than blending grains as you would in blended whiskies, blended malt is the combination of two or more single malt whiskies to make one whisky. In the case of Scotch Whisky, blended malts only contain whisky made from barley, but they may contain multiple single malt brews.
Blended malt whiskies are the preferred choice by particular whisky drinkers as they tend to hold the best attributes of numerous single malts, combined in one glass.
When it comes to blended whiskies, there really are no limits as to how far you can take a single combination. Almost any whisky (whether single malt, blended, single cask, or multiple distilled) can be mixed with another, or multiple others of any variety to create a unique blend of whisky.
It is commonly thought that blended whisky comes with a cheap price tag because of its unrefined nature, however, it is often in the blended varieties that drinkers find the most unique flavour combinations.
Single barrel, or single cask whisky simply means that the whisky has been made and bottled from just one distillery cask. Many distilleries will adopt a single cask process as it is the best way to preserve the unique flavour derived from a cask or barrel. More often than not, individual casks will carry different tastes, even if they’re stored in the same distillery.
Also referred to as ‘cask strength’, barrel proof whisky is when any type of whisky (whether single malt, blended grain, or blended whisky) is bottled straight from the cask after it has been matured, skipping the dilution process entirely. As a result, the alcohol-by-volume (ABV) range of barrel proof whisky is significantly higher than regularly diluted brews (anywhere between 52-66% ABV as compared to the regular 40-42% ABV).
The degree of dilution in whisky distillation has a significant effect on the general taste and enjoyment of the whisky. As such, barrel proof whisky has become a preferred type of whisky among connoisseurs for its true flavour and strength.
So, as you can see, whisky has vast potential. It can be both very affordable and accessible or insanely expensive and scarce. The potential is limitless!