Do you know the difference between whiskey, bourbon, scotch, and rye? It can be confusing, especially since all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbons, and all scotch is whiskey, but not all whiskey is scotch. (Think of it like bubbly. All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne.) Here’s your go-to guide on brown booze and where the best distilleries are around the world.
What it is: Scotch Whisky (no “e” in scotch whisky)
Flavor notes: Scotland’s signature smoky, earthy flavor often comes from peat that’s toasted with barley. While not all Scottish whiskey is peaty, it’s a distinguishable flavor that sets this whisky apart from all others.
Rules of the trade: A single-malt whiskey is required by law to be made from 100 percent malted barley in a single distillery. To be called scotch, it must be distilled and aged in oak casks for no less than three years, entirely within Scotland.
Where to try it: Perched on 370 acres overlooking the River Spey, the Macallan Distillery in Craigellachie, is not only gorgeous, but it has one of the best tours in Scotland. The guides offer an extensive overview of the scotch-making process – it’s their signature oak casks and curiously small stills that make this scotch a true gem.
Highland Park in Kirkwall, Orkney, is a favorite for a smaller, more in-depth visit. You’ll become absorbed in the brand’s rich history and tradition. And for a true connoisseur, Scotland’s Malt Whiskey Trail runs through the Speyside region of Scotland. This popular tourist attraction takes visitors to seven historic distilleries including Benromach, Glenfiddich, and Glenlivet.
What it is: Irish Whiskey
Flavor notes: Irish whiskey has a light, soft barley-rich flavor. Irish whiskeys, like Jameson, contain “pure pot still” whiskey that’s unique to the country. Pot stills and the triple distillation process give many Irish whiskeys their distinct flavor.
Rules of the trade: The three working Irish distilleries (with multiple brands) make mostly blended whiskeys, where Irish single-malts are combined with whiskey made from barley, wheat, or rye and aged for a minimum of three years.
Where to try it: It would pretty much be a sin to go to Ireland and not visit Jameson, in County Cork (pictured above). (They also have a visitor’s center in Dublin.) County Cork is where all the brand’s whiskies are actually produced. The tour takes you though the entire distilling process that’s set on 15 acres of historic ground. (Hint: Volunteers on this trip receive an extra whiskey tasting, so raise your hand.)
What it is: Bourbon
Flavor notes: The limestone-filtered streams and cool hardwood forest of Central Kentucky provide ideal conditions for this sweet, oaky, and charred beverage.
Rules of the trade: To legally be called bourbon, a whiskey must be made from at least 51 percent corn alcohol, and be aged in new oak, charcoaled barrels. The tipple can only be labeled as bourbon if it’s made in the United States, but does not have to be from Bourbon County, Kentucky. (Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniels, is straight bourbon that’s produced in the state of TN.)
Where to taste it: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with winding roads of thoroughbred estates and gorgeous countryside, is the ultimate road trip for bourbon enthusiasts. A leisurely drive from Louisville to Loretto will allow you to visit Maker’s Mark (where you’ll dip your own bottles), Jim Beam, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill. If you’re leaving from Lexington, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace are fantastic options. Make it a weekend getaway and don’t forget your stamps.
What it is: Rye
Flavor notes: The peppery, complex and fruity flavors are distinct to rye – a spirit that’s making a big comeback in the United States.
Rules of the trade: Similar to bourbon, rye whiskey must be aged in charred, new white oak barrels for at least two years. Instead of corn, it must contain 51 percent of rye.
Where to taste it: High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, Utah, is a small-batch, mountain-crafted spirit that’s gaining cult status among whiskey drinkers. This boutique brand makes a few spirits, but their rye (particularly the 12-year-old) is highly coveted. Plus, this gastro-distillery is the first and only ski-in distillery – located at the bottom of Quittin’ Time Ski Run, so visitors can sip and ski (responsibly).
Templeton Rye, located in Templeton, Iowa, is one of the many up-and-coming artisanal rye distillers that are producing superior ryes. Tours are held Monday through Friday, and the experience often includes a labeling session and free shot glass.
What are your favorite brown booze distilleries? Tell us below!