The Whiskey Issue: Whiskey 101

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Whiskey (or "whisky" in Scotland and Canada) comes from a Gaelic word meaning "water of life." The Irish wouldn't live without it. Neither would the Scottish, farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee, or our neighbors to the north. Each group has redefined the 80-proof profession, leaving their mark on the world's greatest spirit. Click the links at right for more about the major types you see standing behind your favorite bar.

Sources: Association of Canadian Distillers, Scotch Whisky Association,,, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations,

Whiskey Words

Deciding what type of whiskey you want is only half the battle. Once you've got the bottle in hand, you'll have to read its label - often a series of confusing terms about age, strength and quality. Here are some common ones to know.

Blended Scotch: A mix of malt and grain whiskies. Example: Dewar's White Label

Cask strength: A type of whiskey that's bottled straight from a cask, without being diluted, and offers higher alcohol content (also known as "barrel proof") Example: Laphroaig 10 Years Old Cask Strength

Single barrel: A type of bourbon taken from one barrel that has been selected by a distiller and allowed more time to age. Example: Blanton's Special Reserve

Single-malt Scotch: Made entirely from water and malted barley and produced at a single distillery. Example: The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Small batch: Bourbon blended in small quantities from a limited number of barrels, and most often bottled at higher than 80 proof. Example: Knob Creek

Sour mash: A distillation process that uses material from an older batch of mash to start a new one (kinda like making sourdough bread). Example: Jack Daniel's

Straight: A designation that a type of whiskey - usually bourbon, rye or Tennessee - has been aged at least two years in new charred-oak barrels. Example: Jim Beam

Vatted malt: A blend of single-malts from different distilleries but with no grain whisky (also known as a "blended malt"). Example: Johnnie Walker Green Label