American Whiskey – A Quick Guide to Different Types of Whiskey from the States

There are few things in life that feel finer than kicking back, relaxing, and unwinding with a glass of your favourite whiskey as you forget your troubles and think of the good times as the warmth of the whiskey washes over your body.

All of you whiskey connoisseurs out there will know from the get-go, that whiskey/whisky is one of the most complex drinks that the world has ever seen. There are so many variables that need to be considered when making a whiskey. What kind of corn should be used? How long should the whiskey age? Should it be stored in Sherry casks or wine? All these things, and many more besides, can drastically change the finished product.

Whereas over in the UK we generally associate whisky with Scotland and whiskey with Ireland, the truth of the matter is that our good friends from over the pond in the States, also know a thing or two about whiskey, as you’ll find out below.

American whiskey is incredibly unique and moreish, but do you know your Jack Daniel’s from your Jim Beam? Can you tell a Bourbon from a rye? After reading this you should be able to. Here is a quick guide to the different types of whiskey from America.

Rye whiskey

First up, we have rye whiskey.

True American whiskey drinkers have a very special place in their hearts for rye whiskey, because it was the first type of whiskey made in America.

Colonists that settled in America from Scotland and Ireland came with the knowledge and desire to make whiskey. The problem was that, whereas Scotland and Ireland largely used malted barley, in America these grains didn’t grow very well. Rye however, did in most places and so rye whiskey became the norm.

Photo by Sazerac

Rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye, along with barley and corn. It is distilled just like Bourbon but if it is aged for two or more years without having been blended can be marketed as ‘straight rye’.

Whereas in the past, rye was considered a drink for “old timers” it has seen somewhat of a resurgence lately and the rye whiskey market is now growing at a rapid pace. Here in the UK, ryes such as Mashbill, and Sazerac Straight Rye, are popular thanks to their spicier, smokier, more mature notes when compared with a bourbon, which usually has a sweeter taste.


Arguably the most popular type of American whiskey is Bourbon.

Primarily produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky, it can, contrary to popular belief, be distilled anywhere in the States.

In order for a bourbon to be classed as such, it must be aged in oak barrels, produced and bottled in America, be at least 80% proof after distillation, and be made from a mash consisting of AT LEAST 51% corn.

The high fructose content of the corn helps to give bourbon its unmistakable sweetness. It does not legally need to age, though many 

Photo by Bulleit

manufacturers do to help develop the flavours and colours. They will also use a selection of different types of wood casks, and do things like charring the oak.

The high fructose content of the corn helps to give bourbon its unmistakable sweetness. It does not legally need to age, though many manufacturers do to help develop the flavours and colours. They will also use a selection of different types of wood casks, and do things like charring the oak.

Bulleit Bourbon is a very popular choice here, or for something even more special, a Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon, which gives notes of caramel, chocolate, maple syrup, and herbs.

Tennessee whiskey

Here’s where some people get confused, largely because of a certain Mr Jack Daniel’s.

Tennessee whiskey is a form of bourbon whiskey which is made in the great State of Tennessee. In order for it to be marketed as a Tennessee whiskey however, it must meet certain legal requirements. To begin with, it must be made in Tennessee. Secondly, to be aged, it must be filtered through charred maple wood chips. This is known as ‘Charcoal Mellowing’.

Photo by Daddy Rack

Now, Jack Daniel’s whiskey is considered by many to be a bourbon, but it is in fact a Tennessee whiskey. It has a lot of the characteristics of bourbon, but it undergoes the charcoal filtering process, along with other Tennessee whiskeys, to give it extra sweet and smoky notes.

Popular Tennessee whiskeys, other than JD that is, include Peg Leg Porker 8 Year Old, and Daddy Rack Small Batch Straight, which offers notes of vanilla, cotton candy, toffee, caramel, chocolate raisins, smoked oak, and candied oranges.

Single malt whiskey

Just because the Scots arguably produce the best single malt whisky in the world, that doesn’t mean America can’t produce its own single malt whiskey.

This whisky in Scotland must be made from a batch of Scotch at one distillery, and age for at least 3 years in a barrel made from oak, before it can be bottled. It is known as single malt because only malted barley can be used to make this particular dram. That means no corn, rye, or any other grains may be used.

Photo by Belmont Farm Distillery

In America however, a single malt may use rye, or corn, and it will not need to age before being bottled. Just because it doesn’t need to however, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t. Most distillers understand the importance of aging their single malts.

Belmont Farm Kopper Kettle American Single Malt for example, is aged in new American oak barrels, and is triple distilled. It is like a bourbon and single malt hybrid offering notes of milk and cereal with tart cherries, brown sugar, and freshly baked cookies.

Blended whiskey

Finally, last but certainly not least, we have blended whiskey.

As the name implies, this particular type of whiskey is made from a blend of different whiskeys, along with a combination of flavourings, grains, and even colours sometimes.

Blended whiskey offers you the best of all whiskey worlds, and also helps distillers to keep costs down. They are particularly popular in cocktails.

If you’re looking to add some American whiskeys to your collection, be sure to check out the amazing selection of tipples available at .

Here you’ll find the finest Bourbons, Ryes, blended whiskeys, Tennessee whiskeys, and single malts, with budgets to suit all. Don’t believe us? Go ahead and see for yourself.

Tags: American WhiskeyQuick GuideStatesTypes of Whiskey
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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