Scotch is made from Malt and/or Grain whiskeys. Malt is whisky made entirely from malted barley. Grain is whiskey
made from malted and unmalted barley along with other grains. 3 different varieties of Scotch result:
Single malt whisky is produced by a single distillery. Unless the whisky is described as “single-cask”, it will contain the same type of malt yet from many casks. This yields a distinct taste that a particular distillery brands such as Glenfiddich, Bowmore, or Glenlivet.
Vatted malt is created by combining malt whiskies produced by different distilleries. It is usually labelled as “pure malt” or “malt”. A top brand in this category is Johnnie Walker Green.
Blended whiskies, usually cheaper and made from a mixture of Malt and Grain from many distilleries, are blended to produce a flavor consistent with a brand that’s independent of a particular distillery such as Ballantine’s or Chivas.
Scotch is usually distilled twice, though sometimes a third time. International laws require anything bearing the label “Scotch” to either be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks or distilled elsewhere meeting the same standards. Whiskies mature only in the cask and not the bottle, so a Scotch’s age is measured between the time it is distilled and bottled. This indicates how much the cask has interacted with the whisky, altering its body and taste. Whiskies that have been in the bottle for many years may be considered rare but are not older and will not necessarily be better than a more recently made whisky matured in wood for a similar time. If Scotch whisky is from more than one cask, and if it includes an age statement on the bottle, it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. As a result, many single malts omit the age because they use younger elements in small amounts for flavoring and mellowing.
Bourbon whiskey was first made in the central bluegrass region of Bourbon County, Kentucky. The county received its namesake in honor the French royal family. In 1774 at Fort Harrod (now Harrodsburg) Kentucky, residents had an abundance of corn exceeding what they and their livestock could eat. They began converting the excess into whiskey because it didn’t spoil and could be transported more easily than the grain itself. As the distilled spirits were shipped in barrels down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, they were stamped with the county’s name, eventually becoming synonymous with this kind of whiskey. Popular brands include Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam.
By international agreement, a whiskey qualifies as Bourbon if it’s:
- Made in the United States
- Contains at least 51% and no more than 79% Indian corn
- Distilled at no more than 160 proof
- Aged in an oak cask charred on the inside.
Distillers typically use American White Oak casks because they are porous enough to enhance aging yet not too much allowing leakage. Most bourbon is aged four years or more with higher-end brands topping six years or longer. Nothing can be added during bottling to enhance flavor, sweetness, or alter color so this rules out Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. Other grains included with the Bourbon making process are malted barley, rye, or wheat.