What's the difference between a Single Malt Scotch Whisky and a Blended Scotch Whisky? Or between a whisky, a whiskey, a bourbon, a Tennessee whiskey and a rye?

In its broadest definition, 'whisky' is a drink distilled from the fermentation of malt. Malt is any grain that has been allowed to germinate, particularly barley or rye, and then dried. The process by which it malt is made is called 'malting'.

Close up of barley in a barley field

Whether it is spelled 'whisky' or 'whiskey' usually depends on where it was made.

In Scotland, Canada, Japan and other parts of the world, it is spelled without the 'e', while in the US and Ireland it is more commonly spelled with an 'e'.

The main differences between types of whisky are down to three things: the grain used; the production process; where the whisky was made; and how long it was matured for.


A Scotch Whisky must be made from malted barley or grain with the spirit aged in oak casks no bigger than 700 litres for no less than three years. Whisky of one type or another is made all over the world, but to be called Scotch Whisky it must be made entirely in Scotland.

A wall of copper stills

Single Malt Whisky

This is a whisky from a single distillery made using only malted barley, water and yeast.

Single Malt Scotch Whiskies traditionally come from five regions: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Island and Campbelltown. The different regions are famed for specific characteristics like fruitiness, freshness, maltiness and smokiness.

Reflection in a copper still

Grain Whisky

This is a type of whisky where the main ingredient is maize or wheat, or both.

A room of copper stills

Blended Whisky

A Blended Scotch Whisky is made by mixing together Single Malt Whiskies and Single Grain Whiskies. The advantage of blending is that it ensures the flavour and quality of the whisky remains the same time after time.

In an ‘age stated’ Blended Scotch Whisky, the age statement refers to the youngest whisky used in the blend.

Irish Whiskey

This is any whiskey made in Eire (Republic of Ireland) or in Northern Ireland. Unlike Scotch, any malted cereal grains can be used in any proportion. Like Scotch, it must be aged in wooden casks for a minimum of three years.

Coloured whisky casks

Other whiskies


Bourbon is an American whiskey made from malted grains that are at minimum 51% corn. The rules around what constitutes a bourbon are more relaxed than those for Scotch, but it must be made entirely within the United States to qualify.


This is a bourbon from one American state, for example Kentucky, that has been aged for at least two years and doesn’t have any additives, such as flavouring or colourants.


A blended bourbon can include other spirits and flavourings, but must be a minimum of at least 51% straight bourbon.


This is essentially the same as bourbon. The only distinction is the inclusion of charcoal filtering in the post-distillation process.


Rye is primarily made in North America. In the United States, it must be fermented from a mixture of malted grains that is at least 51% rye. The rules around Canadian rye are much looser and they can contain far less than half rye.


Flavoured whiskies are, broadly speaking, whiskies with a single added flavouring but without additional sweetener. Popular flavourings include honey, spices and apple. Flavoured whiskies can be homemade or produced commercially as variants of some branded whiskies.


A whisky liqueur is, broadly speaking, any form of flavoured whisky with added sweetener, traditionally served as an after-dinner drink. Whisky liqueurs fall into two broad categories: those made with cream and those made without.

Highland cows in a field


Bottle of Johnnie Walker Colour whisky range

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