It can be a tad tricky explaining the difference between a Single Grain Scotch and an Irish Pot Still whisky after you've had a few drams. To help you out, we've put together a handful of infographics to explain the different types of whisky found here in the UK. Each one is explained in detail below.
Scottish Whisky Definitions
Scotch can only be produced in Scotland. Whisky made anywhere else in the world cannot be called Scotch. The different categories of Scotch are explained on the diagram above. For more whisky terms, see the glossary at the end of this blog post.
Distillers in Scotland must produce whisky that adheres to both the EU definitions of whisky and the rather onerous Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR). If they don't, then it can't be called whisky or Scotch. This extra set of controls regulates how Scotch is made, named and labelled. Whilst this helps maintain its fine reputation, it does restrict the ability to experiment. For example, they can't mature spirit in anything other than oak casks - so no maple or chestnut cask expressions allowed - and they could never make a 100% rye whisky, as all Scotch must contain malted barley.
SCOTCH CATEGORY EXAMPLES
Here are some examples of well known and readily available whiskies from each of the Scotch whisky categories:
Single Grain Whisky: Loch Lomond Single Grain (46% abv)
Blended Grain Whisky: Famous Grouse The Snow Grouse (40% abv)
Single Malt Whisky: Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie (50% abv)
Blended Malt Whisky: Monkey Shoulder (40% abv)
Blended Whisky: Johnnie Walker Red Label (40% abv)
Irish Whisky Definitions
Distillers in Ireland have to make whiskey that adheres to the snappy Irish Whiskey Act (aka the IWA - it's 2 pages long) and the EU definitions of whisky. There is also a very handy Technical File that expands upon the information given in the IWA. Like the Scots, the Irish have a second set of rules to follow, though they allow for much greater experimentation and innovation. For example, any type of wooden cask can be used for maturation (as long as it's below the EU limit of 700 litres), and whiskeys could be made that don't contain malted barley.
Despite many Irish whiskeys being triple distilled, it doesn't have to be by law, nor does it have to be spelt with an 'e', though it is customary to use the 'e' to distinguish it from Scotch. The different categories of Irish whiskey are explained on the diagram above.
IRISH CATEGORY EXAMPLES
Here are some examples of well known and readily available whiskeys from each of the Irish whiskey categories:
Single Grain Whiskey: Teeling Single Grain (46% abv)
Single Malt Whiskey: Glendalough 7 Year Old (46% abv)
Pot Still Whiskey: Midleton Distillery Green Spot (40% abv)
Blended Whiskey: Bushmills Black Bush (40% abv)
English/Welsh Whisky Definitions
Finally we come to English and Welsh whiskies, with the English side of things obviously being close to our heart! Currently there are no specific English or Welsh regulations that define the whisky we can produce; we only have to ensure our whisky meets the EU definitions, which are explained on the above diagram.
Consequently, we are free to innovate. English and Welsh whiskies can be made with any cereal (rye, oat, wheat, barley), distilled in any type of still and matured in casks made from whichever wood we choose (maple, chestnut, cherry, oak). The freedom to experiment is a luxury we have over our Scottish and Irish counterparts, and one we should embrace.
When it comes to categories (Single Grain, Single Malt etc), there are no rules yet laid down for the English and Welsh, though current releases from the few distilleries in production follow the Scottish framework. All 14 English whisky distilleries can be seen on our map.
We have an incredible opportunity here at Cooper King Distillery to embrace the freedom afforded to us by the current regulations. Please join us as we embark on our journey to produce spirits underpinned by craftsmanship, honesty and adventure.
In addition to the terms used on the diagrams above, here are a few more you’re likely to stumble across as you look over the myriad of bottles in your local whisky store; we hope their explanations give you some insight. It may be worth taking a look at our article on whisky myths too. Please note, these terms are not universally enshrined in law, and each country has a different attitude to their use (some are strict, some are rather laissez-faire …). Our whisky glossary will be expanded and given its own blog post in due course.
Cask strength – whisky bottled at the strength it left the cask, with no water added; often around 60% abv.
Chill-filtered - whisky that has been passed through a filter at low temperatures after maturation. This removes particles that cause a hazy appearance, but also those associated with colour and flavour.
Malt spirit – a generic term given to any drink made from malted barley.
Natural cask strength – see Cask Strength.
New make – the name given to unaged whisky, straight from the still. It is clear, punchy and can be delicious.
Pure malt – This term has come under fire for being misleading, and is prohibited in Scotland. See Vatted Malt.
Single- - generally if you see this prefix before any category of whisky, it means that the product was distilled at one distillery only. It does not relate to the number of different cereals used.
Single cask – whisky originating from one cask only i.e. not blended with any other cask.
Vatted malt – a blend of single malt whiskies from two or more distilleries. Also known as Blended Malt in Scotland.
The diagrams and explanations in this blog have not divulged every last detail of the relevant regulations, though have covered the key concepts. We have also opted to spell English/Welsh Whisky without the 'e', though it would be perfectly acceptable to use either variant.
Feel free to let us know of any corrections and clarifications using our contact page.