Let’s just start off by stating: All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whisky is bourbon. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into what makes whisky, whisky and the difference between scotch, bourbon, rye, single malt and other whiskies and why you’ll see whisky spelled as whiskey sometimes.
Both spellings of the word, whiskey and whisky, are correct. Typically the spelling comes down to the country of origin of the product. If you’re talking about a dram that’s been made in Scotland, Canada, or Japan, use the spelling without the e—whisky. When referencing drinks distilled in the United States or Ireland, use the e—whiskey.
How we remember this is, if the country has an “e” in its name, then the whisky does too! So, Ireland/America use whiskey, Canada/Scotland/Japan – whisky!
The difference also carries on into the plural. For whiskey, the plural is whiskeys. For whisky, it’s whiskies. For the sake of this article we are going to use the Canadian spelling of whisky!
While we knock back a dram of whisky in a carefree way, it’s important to note the rigid criteria set in place to deem whisky a bourbon. For a whisky to call itself a bourbon, its mash, the mixture of grains must contain at least 51% corn. The mash must be distilled at 80% ABV or less, put into a new oak barrel at 62.5% or less and must not contain any additives. For example, Buffalo Trace is a bourbon made from 51% corn and aged in the US in new oak barrels, while Jack Daniels is not technically a bourbon because it is filtered through sugar maple charcoal hence the name Tennessee Whiskey and not “bourbon”.
There are also no aging requirements for bourbon and these whiskies can be aged for as little as three months. Bourbon must also be matured in a new charred American oak barrel. This means the barrel can only be used once for bourbon and often the barrels find themselves being shipped to Scotland for aging Scotch or to Mexico to age Tequila or even sometimes Turner Valley.
Now the age-old question is, can bourbon only be made in Kentucky? While 95% of bourbon comes from Kentucky, in 1964 the US Congress declared it “America’s Native Spirit”. Therefore, to be called a bourbon, it must be made in the U.S, but not necessarily in Kentucky.
Now, let’s dive into the fantastic world of Scotch Whisky. Like with bourbon, all scotch is whisky, but not all whisky is scotch. The defining feature of scotch is geographic, as well as the ingredients.
In order for a whisky to be called a scotch, it must be made in Scotland, while bourbon whisky must be made in America. Scotch is mostly made of malted barley, whereas bourbon is distilled from corn and other grains. So, if you’re wondering, here at Eau Claire Distillery our whisky will never be a bourbon or a scotch because we use premium malted barley grown right here in our Alberta backyard, and of course, we’re not in the U.S or Scotland.
Rye is a grain in the wheat family and closely relates to barley. “Rye whisky” can often be referred to as American whisky, which must be distilled from at least 51% rye and aged for more than two years. There are no rules stating where Rye whisky can be made due to it being a style versus a protected term.
Fun Fact: Many people think that Canadian whisky is synonymous with Rye Whisky, however, whiskies made in Canada may not contain any rye.
Canadian whisky, legally in Canada “whisky” is spelled without the “e”. Canadian whisky is usually made with different grains and typically is much lighter and smoother compared to other whiskies. There is only one law for producing Canadian whisky: it must be fermented, distilled, and aged in Canada for a minimum of three years. There are no rules that say what grains must be used and is often made from a variety of grains including corn, rye and malted barley. Our favourite Canadian Whisky is our Rupert’s Exceptional Canadian Whisky.
Blended whisky is a blend of malt and grain whiskies. A typical blend would include around 20% malt whisky (made up from several single malt distilleries) and 80% grain whisky, however there are no rules around the specific recipe for a blend, that’s where whisky blenders get to have their fun! The use of caramel colouring is also permitted in blended whisky for consistency of colour in bottle.
Interesting fact: Most of the larger companies and brands producing whisky in Canada and the U.S. are actually blended whisky!
Single Malt Whisky
Let’s chat about the finer details of single malt whisky. Whenever you see the word “single” used to describe single malt whisky, it means the whisky has been produced at a single distillery. This does not necessarily mean that the liquid comes from a single barrel or cask, but usually from several different barrels. The word “malt” means a single malt must be made using only malted barley as grain and must be aged a minimum of three years to be a single malt whisky, sometimes up to 50-60 years for some single malts.
Fun fact: Our annual Single Malt Whisky releases happen annually in November and you can find out more by joining our Cask Club newsletter.
A single cask whisky, like our Cask 10 Whisky, will only produce roughly 200-600 bottles depending on the size. This usually makes single cask releases rare and more expensive. Age statement of single malt whisky is dictated by the age of the youngest spirit in the bottle. For example, if you mix a three-year-old cask with a seven-year-old cask, the resulting whisky would have a three-year age statement.
To Mix or Not to Mix Whisky
We’re sure you’ve heard it is very taboo to mix whisky, but in essence, some whisky can make for really great cocktails. Rupert’s Whisky is a wonderful choice for making cocktails and one of our favourite whisky cocktails we make is the Little New York Sour. You can also find more recipes for whisky cocktails on our website!
To make, you’ll need:
2oz Rupert’s Whisky
1oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.75oz Simple Syrup
1 Egg White (optional)
5oz Red Wine
Add all ingredients except the wine into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a rocks or coupe glass. Slowly pour the wine over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats on top of the drink.
If you serve up this cocktail or have your own favourite whisky cocktail, be sure to let us know what you think by sharing it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #shareeauclaire!
So there you have it! Whether you’re enjoying a whisky or a whiskey you really can’t go wrong. All aged brown spirits are interestingly delicious in their own way and have their own story to tell with every sip.
We hope we were able to help you understand the wonderful world of whisky a little bit better and answer some of those questions you might receive at your next dinner party when you bring out your favourite bottle of whisky at the end of the night. We could also dive into how to drink whisky, but we’ll save that for another blog post 😉
For now, go indulge in a dram! Sláinte!