Whiskey is a go to with good reason, and for more than just in the Old Fashioned. When it comes to whiskey varieties, it helps to know what tastes optimal for cocktails. Differences between whiskey variations relies mostly on the type of grain used in the mash. While there’s plenty of variations of whiskey on the market today, I’ll be writing about a handful of core mixtures, so let’s take a look.
What is Whiskey?
Simply put, whiskey is a beverage distilled from fermented grain mash. The only time it doesn’t have to be aged is when it’s fermented with corn. To be considered whiskey, it must be distilled between 40% and 94.8% alcohol by volume.
Malt whiskey is made primarily with malted barley and predominately made in Scotland and Ireland. While all scotch is made in Scotland, there are other countries that also have their hands in the malt whiskey category.
Grain whiskey is made with any type of grains. Malted barley can be included, but isn’t the main focus for many grain whiskeys. The grains typically used for this kind of whiskey include maize (corn), wheat, or rye.
Made from mash that consists of at least 51% corn, many bourbons today start with a sour mash. Bourbon has origins in Kentucky, and can only be labeled as bourbon if it’s made in the United States. All bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. For a no age statement bourbon, it must be aged for at least 4 years.
Flavor profile: Bourbon tends to be fuller in body, with more concentrated notes of vanilla, baking spices and caramel.
Drink suggestions: Bourbon is a good match for the Old Fashioned. Brands I suggest trying are Bulleit Straight Bourbon and Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon.
This is a form of bourbon, though typically the only difference is it’s filtered through charcoal before being aged in the barrels.
Using mash that consists of at least 51% rye, rye whisky must also be aged in oak casks for at least 2 years. This kind of whiskey is produced largely in United States and Canada.
Flavor profile: Rye tends to be drier, almost always dominated by spice. Canadian rye tends to be more mellow, with a hint of the Rye spiciness.
Drink suggestions: Rye is really good with a Manhattan. I suggest Whistle Pig Straight Rye and Knob Creek Straight Rye.
Made with mash which consists of at least 80% corn and distilled to a maximum of 160 proof. It differs from stereotypical American moonshine in that corn whiskey uses a traditional mash process.
Some ideas for using corn whiskey: over ice, add your choice of sliced fruit and/or various herbs (i.e. strawberries, watermelon, thyme, mint), mix in the corn whiskey, and top with club soda or other clear soda. A couple brands of corn whiskey include Silver Lightning Moonshine and Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1 Corn Whiskey.
Simply put, blended whiskeys are made by mixing one or more variations of whiskey, blending with other spirits, and also by blending in various flavors.