Whiskey Alcohol Content & Terminology
The alcohol percentage of whiskey can vary considerably, though 80 proof to 100 proof (40% to 50% ABV) is most common.
By law, whiskey typically cannot be bottled at under 40 percent alcohol. Higher ABV whiskeys, while they are available, are taxed at a higher rate in many countries and are therefore reserved for specialty products.
Some types of whiskey can be as strong as 68% ABV, but most are closer to 40% or 50%.
Whiskey comes with a wide range of terminology, including:
Scotch Whisky, or Scotch, is an exclusively Scottish whisky (never “whiskey”), distilled from malted barley and other fermented grains and matured in oak casks for at least three years. Scotch is often described as smooth and smoky.
Irish Whiskey is exclusively produced in Ireland and is aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks. Irish whiskey undergoes triple distillation, giving it a sweet and smooth finish.
Bourbon whiskey or Kentucky bourbon is an American whiskey made from a minimum of 51% corn mash, with the remainder being any cereal grain. It is aged in charred white oak barrels for a minimum of two years and is described as having heat to its flavor.
Learn more about Bourbon Vs. Whiskey Vs. Scotch
Tennessee whiskey is closely related to bourbon but is made in the state of Tennessee and filtered with charcoal. It is described as aromatic and sweet.
Rye whiskey is an American whiskey produced using the same distilling process as bourbon, but using at least 51% rye as well as corn and barley. Rye whiskey tends to have a spicier flavor than other whiskeys.
Canadian whiskey is made with corn in addition to other grains and is aged for a minimum of three years in wooden barrels. It tends to be smooth and flavorful.
Japanese whisky is generally made to be as similar as possible to authentic scotch and uses similar distilling methods.
Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt whisky is any whiskey produced in a single batch using only one grain, usually malted barley.
Single Grain Whiskey
Single grain whiskey is produced in a single batch but with a variety of different grains.
Blended whiskey is made from whiskey mixed with other less-expensive spirits and other ingredients to create a lower-priced, and lower quality, alcoholic beverage.
This describes the portion of a whiskey’s total volume lost to evaporation during aging. This is typically around 2-4% of its pure alcohol per year, which means that a 12-year old barrel could lose up to a quarter or more of its volume by the time it is finished.
Cask strength, also known as barrel proof or barrel strength, describes any whiskey that has not been substantially diluted after being aged in a cask. Dilution is typically used during the bottling process to reduce a whiskey’s strength, usually to 40% ABV.
A congener is any compound produced by yeast during fermentation that isn’t ethanol (drinking alcohol). This often includes esters, acids, sulfur, aldehydes, fusel oils, and other unwanted and even toxic compounds that are known to make hangovers more severe.
Fortunately, these compounds are made in such low quantities as to be otherwise harmless, and the worst are absorbed by the wooden casks during aging.
The result is an alcoholic drink that retains many congeners, providing a unique and memorable flavor profile, but without the harshness, they contribute to un-aged whiskey.
Whiskey & Drinking Problems
Whiskey has long been known for its diverse and passionate following among connoisseurs and distillers the world over.
However, drinking too much whiskey can develop into a chronic condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is defined as continuing to drink despite it causing problems with your physical, social, and emotional health.
To learn about how we treat AUD, please contact us today.
Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
This page does not provide medical advice.
Encyclopedia Britannica - whiskey History, Characteristics, Types, Production, & facts
Alan J. Buglass - Handbook of Alcoholic Beverages: Technical, Analytical and Nutritional Aspects
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