Distilled Spirits - Whiskey - Classification
Different types of whiskey are primarily classified based on their composition and the time they have spent aging in barrels, as well as whether the barrels have previously contained Port wine, sherry, or bourbon. Let’s explore the main categories:
Single Malt Whiskey: Primarily made from malted barley, it is traditionally distilled in onion-shaped copper stills. Depending on the origin of the malt, we find two subtypes:
a) Single Malt: This whiskey is produced exclusively from malted barley in a single distillery. Typically, the whiskey’s name corresponds to the distillery’s name. Unless specified as “single cask,” it is a blend of different barrels to ensure product consistency. In some popular cases, an undiluted version with higher alcohol content, known as “Cask Strength,” is marketed.
b) Vatted Malt: It is a blend of malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whiskey is simply labeled as “malt,” it is highly likely to be a vatted malt. Sometimes it is also known as “pure malt” when a company uses whiskies from different distilleries under the same name to meet demand.
Grain Whiskey: Made from unmalted barley, corn, and other grains, although malted barley can also be used. It is typically distilled in continuous stills or column stills (Coffey stills).
Blended Whiskey: It is a blend of the two aforementioned types. With the arrival of column stills, some Scottish traders began combining younger and more robust malt whiskies with smoother grain whiskies, usually corn, to create a reasonably priced product of acceptable quality. Over time, some of these traders established their products in the market, improving the quality to compete with malt whiskies.
It is important to note that whiskies do not mature in the bottle, but in the barrels. Therefore, the age of a whiskey refers to the time between distillation and bottling. During this period, the whiskey interacts with the wood of the barrel, changing its chemical composition and flavor. While whiskies that have matured for many years in barrels often have higher value, they are not necessarily older or better than those that have matured for a similar period but were bottled more recently. For the production of premium whiskies, barrels are hand-selected for their high quality, character, and flavor, resulting in unique whiskies.
Regarding the raw materials used, whiskey is primarily made from malted barley, rye, corn, and occasionally wheat. Malted barley is soaked in water and then allowed to germinate before being dried in an oven, activating enzymes.
These are some of the key aspects regarding the classification of whiskey types, as well as the raw materials and processes used in their production. Each distillery may have its own techniques and variations, contributing to the diversity and wide range of flavors found in the world of whiskey.