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What is whiskey?

Whiskey is a distilled alcohol beverage derived from fermented grain mash, technically speaking. But as anyone who’s had even the briefest encounter with a whiskey enthusiast knows, whiskey is a robust world with much nuance and some seriously hardcore fans.

Whiskey can be made from a variety of different grains, such as barley, corn, rye and wheat, and it’s usually aged in wooden casks.

What’s the difference between whiskey and whisky?

Well, the “e,” of course. Beyond that, not much—tomato, tom-ah-toe, essentially. Irish & American types use “whiskey,” whereas it’s generally referred to as “whisky” in Scotland, Canada, Japan and other whisky-producing countries. Don’t worry too much; no one will be that mad if you get them mixed up.

What are the different types of whiskey?

Do you have a couple months to read a full breakdown? No? OK fine, we’ll stick to the basics:

Scotch: It comes from Scotland, believe it or not. It’s made from either malt or barley and production is regulated by very specific laws. Within the category of scotch, there’s single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended Scotch (whew). To be considered scotch, the whisky must be aged in barrels for at least three years. Scotch can be peaty, but it doesn’t have to be. Fun fact: a drinking unit of scotch is referred to as a “dram” rather than a shot.

Bourbon: It’s a classic American style whiskey that’s usually made from corn and barrel-aged. While bourbon isn’t required to be made in Kentucky, that’s pretty much the common association made with bourbon. The mash bill is required to be at least 51% corn, though.

Rye: Another American whiskey. At least 51% must be distilled from rye grain, and it’s aged in charred, new oak barrels.

Irish: Jameson shots are a thing for a reason; Irish whisky tends to be real smooth in comparison to some of the heartier varieties from other parts of the world. It probably goes without saying, but Irish whisky can only be produced in...Ireland.

Japanese: You just said “Suntory time!” to yourself, didn’t you? Japanese whisky was created in the style of scotch whisky and is typically produced as single malt whisky or as a blended whisky.

How should I drink whiskey?

A nice whiskey is a thing unto itself and can be sipped neat. But of course, there are also loads of delicious whiskey cocktails you can try out, like a whiskey sour, an old fashioned, a sazerac, and a Manhattan. And obvs, there are classic mixed drinks like whiskey & Coke, whiskey & soda, and whiskey & ginger.

What are the best brands of whiskey?