Like any good cowboy or cowgirl, you mosey into the saloon and order a whiskey. But with so many choices, what should you get? And do you want whiskey or whisky? What’s the difference? All whiskeys are fermented grain that is distilled and aged in oak. But depending on the variety and place of origin, there are some definite differences.
Scotch whisky is made of malted barley, aged at least 3 years, and typically has a peaty or smoky quality to it. Irish whiskey may be a blend of malted and un-malted or may be one or the other. It must be distilled 3 times (while Scotch is typically distilled twice) and must be aged at least 3 years in wooden casks. Irish whiskey is usually smoother and lacks the peaty quality of Scotch.
American straight whiskey, or bourbon, must use corn as the predominant grain and must be aged in new charred oak barrels at least 2 years. American rye whiskey is the same as bourbon but made with rye instead of corn. Wheat whiskey (such as Maker’s Mark) is similar, but softer and not as bold and spicy in flavor as rye. Tennessee whiskey is bourbon that has been filtered through maple charcoal. Its flavor is mellow, and slightly sweet and sooty.
Canadian whisky is the lightest and is typically a blend of corn, wheat or other grain. Some Canadian whiskies include small amount of flavorful rye whisky in the blend. These are called “Canadian rye” or, in Canada, simply “rye whisky”. All Canadian whiskies must be aged at least 3 years in oak barrels and are typically lighter and smoother than other whisky styles. Note that Canadian rye and American rye is not at all the same thing! What Americans call rye is a much spicier drink.
Meanwhile, back at the saloon, you can drink your whiskey (or whisky) straight, on the rocks, or with a splash of water (non-chlorinated or spring water is best). Start with a capful of water and add more to taste. And about that spelling…countries with an “E” in their names (Ireland, United States) drink “whiskey”. The others drink “whisky”. Now you know.