Confused about whisky? Here is your cheat sheet in 6 simple steps.

Confused about whisky? Here is your cheat sheet in 6 simple steps.




This trending golden elixir is beaming with delight everywhere on the planet right now for the sheer joy of its aficionados. But do you really understand whisky? I mean really?

Like wine, the whisky’s world can be quite confusing. From the classics that come from Scotland or Ireland to the Americans or the Japanese and even the French?

Here is an easy way to finally understand this delicious drink that you may already enjoy so dearly on your evenings or weekends.

1- Whisky is made from GRAIN only

What you have to know is that whisky is a spirit, aqua vitae made from grain only. By grains, I mean any kind of grain: Barley, corn, wheat, rye, oat, millet, etc.

Usually, the grain used will depend on where the whisky comes from.

For instance, If it comes from America, the grain most used will be corn or rye are these grains are widely available there.

2- Whisky is a SPIRIT

Whisky is a spirit which means that to be called whisky it must contain at least 40% alc./vol. Distillation is the process used to create any kind of Spirit (Gin, Vodka, Rum…). This happens though stills that simply separate the alcohol from the water by heating it. This process allows the aromas to concentrate.

3- Whisky is aged in oak barrels

There are 3 main factors that will influence the flavours and taste of a whisky.

  • The type of oak used

I can be new oak and charred inside, it can be used in barrels where another liquid was before (usually Wine, Sherry, Bourbon and Rum).

  • The weather and length of time

The climate, temperature and seasons play an important part in the ageing process.

Let’s take the example of Scotch (from Scotland, UK) and Bourbon (from the United States).

Can you picture a tea bag? When you’re using it for the first time in hot water, it’s going to infuse its taste and flavours in a few minutes right?

Let’s take the same tea bag that you’ve just used but in warm water, it will steep longer right?

This is the main difference between these 2 main kinds of whiskies.

In the United States and especially in Kentucky where Bourbon originated, there are 4 definite seasons. It’s very warm in summer and very cold in winter. Also, the barrels used to age the spirit are new and charred inside which will give a lot of flavours and colours to the whisky quickly.

At the contrary, in Scotland, the weather is pretty cool all year round and the barrels used to age it is all used barrels, which mean that another liquid was there before and it will also impact the taste of the of spirit. (bourbon barrels, sherry, wine, rum…).

This explains why there are Bourbon whiskies regularly of a young age and scotch whiskies can be very old.

4- The different STYLES of Whiskies

The two main kinds are Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky.

  • Malt Whisky made primarily from malted barley.
  • Grain Whisky made from any type of grain.

Then, they can be combined in different ways:

Single Malt or Single Grain

comes from the same distillery. In can be a blend of different casks of malt or grain from the same distillery

Blended Malt

Is a blend a single malt from different distilleries, can be named also “pure malt”.


Blend of different kind of whiskies from various distilleries.

Cask strength

They are rarer, it means that no added water has been added to the whisky before bottling. The content of alcohol is usually high (more than 50%).

Single Cask

Means the whisky comes from one cask only.

The term whisky or Whiskey indicate the same thing. The only difference is where the whisky comes from. Usually, the term whisky is used for Scotch (made in Scotland) and Whiskey for whisky made in Ireland or America.

5- Whisky is made all around the world

The main countries, that are widely known for making whisky are:

  • UK, Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • United States
  • Canada
  • India

Other countries

  • France
  • Australian (Tasmania mostly)
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • German
  • Taiwanese
  • Swedish

It can be made pretty much everywhere.

6- Where to start?

Maybe the right place to start is to try whiskies from the places where it was born: Scotland and Ireland.

Some ideas:

  • Make it a get-together

Buy some different style and invite your friends over.

My advice would be to start with one country or region only. If you need some inspiration, here are some scottish brands I love.

  • Islay: Kilchoman
  • Campbeltown: Springbank 
  • Highlands: Tullibardine
  • Speyside: Glen Grant
  • Skye: Praban Na linne
  • Spend the evening in a Whisky bar

Spend an evening in a whisky bar in your town with a bunch of friends and taste the differences. You can bring some cigar, it came to be a really fun night!

  • Go on a trip

This is a great reason to visit a country, connect with the locals and really learn about the culture. Many whisky trails have been developed over the years. Here are some ideas.

  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Tasmania
  • Kentucky

If you fall in love like many do nowadays with this delectable elixir, create your own club or sign up to one in your area!

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