There's something intriguing about whiskey that makes us revere it with awe -- its name, after all, comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which means "water of life." If it's in fact the "water of life," then let's drink up! But before you lift that glass, you need to either A) buy the right kind of whiskey for your home or B) know what to order at the bar! There are several different whiskeys around the world and all are slightly different -- made of different ingredients, and even given different names, like Scotch or Bourbon. So sidle up and find out what you should be looking for ...

The Many Types

SCOTCH WHISKYS can only be produced in Scotland and are generally made from malted barley, distilled at least twice and aged for at least three years in oak barrels. Scotch typically has a smoky taste because peat (basically dirt) is used in the malting process.

There are two main types: single malt Scotch (made from malted barley) and single grain Scotch (made at a single distillery of malted barley and other grains, malted or unmalted).

Furthermore there are three blends: blended malt Scotch (a blend of single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries), blended grain Scotch (a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries) and blended Scotch (a blend of single malt Scotch and single grain Scotch).

IRISH WHISKEYS can only be produced in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and are aged for at least three years. Unlike Scotch whiskies, Irish whiskeys have a cleaner taste since peat is not used in the malting process. Most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and other grains. This produces a whiskey that is much lighter and more neutral than most others.

AMERICAN WHISKEYS are generally aged in new charred oak barrels. Some of the most popular American whiskeys include Rye whiskey, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.

  • Rye whiskey, is, as the name suggests, made from rye (at least 51%). It has a spicy, fruity taste. Originally cocktails like the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, and Whiskey Sour were created with rye.
  • Bourbon is mostly made from corn (at least 51% by regulation) and has a sweet taste. Brands include Maker's Mark and Wild Turkey.
  • Tennessee whiskey is straight Bourbon whiskey that is made in Tennessee. What differentiates it from regular Bourbon is that it's filtered through maple charcoal before going into barrels for aging, which removes unpleasant aromas and flavors, giving the whiskey a cleaner taste. There are four brands: Jack Daniel's, George Dickel, Collier and McKeel, and Benjamin Prichard's (does not use the filtering process).

How To Serve And Taste Whiskey

Whiskey is really best served "neat" in a snifter at room temperature with no ice. This type of glass with its particular tulip-like shape helps the drinker enjoy the aroma and flavor. The heat of your hands also helps bring out more flavors in the whiskey.

When you get your whiskey, smell it, but be careful not to inhale abruptly as the alcohol will deaden your senses -- it's best to leave your mouth open as you smell the whiskey. Watch the video below for exact tips on drinking whiskey.

If you order a whiskey "on the rocks," which means with ice, it will be served to you in an old-fashioned glass. It's also quite common to order whiskey with water, which some drinkers say helps bring out the flavor of the whiskey. It’s a good idea to taste the whiskey first before adding water to see if it’s even needed. Try to use spring water instead of tap water, which contains chlorine that may react with the whiskey.

Whiskey Terminology

Grain whiskey refers to whiskey made from grains other than malted barley that's distilled in a continuous column still, which produces a light-tasting whiskey. Grain whiskey is usually mixed with malt whiskey to create a blended whiskey.

Blended whiskey contains both malt whiskey and grain whiskey. It's the most common kind of whiskey available. Brands include Dewar's, Johnnie Walker, Seagram's Seven Crown, and Chivas Regal.

Single malt whiskey is made from a single malted grain, traditionally barley, that is made in one distillery. The term is most often applied to Scotch whisky.

Single barrel whiskey means the entire bottle came from one barrel of whiskey instead of a blend from many barrels. This term is most often applied to Bourbons.

Straight whiskey is a term used for an American whiskey that is aged for 2 years or more in new charred white oak barrels.


What's your favorite whiskey? Leave us a comment below.

WATCH: Drinking Tips From A Whiskey Master