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Whisky, in its numerous forms and sold all over the world, is more varied in taste, aroma and style than another hard liquor.

However, with most people’s first experience of whisky usually being by way of tank-distilled cheap blends, most likely served along with ice and fountain cola, it is a wonder how people come back to whisky and give it a second chance.

Bad whisky it seems is infinitely more offensive to the mouth than another alcohol, like wine or beer.

Good whisky by contrast, is superb, smooth and will truly encapsulate every aspect of a distillery’s methodology and history.

How and When Whisky Gets its Flavour

But it is not simply money, which makes the difference with whisky, although that will generally improve the end product.

The country of origin, the distillery, what ratio the ingredients are mashed in, what it’s stored in and finally the location and length of maturation can all lead to hugely different styles and flavours in whisky.

Made from mostly corn or barley which is used in different ratios – depending on which recipe – the first stage of whisky is in malting.

The aim of malting is to take your base starch, be it corn or otherwise – and turn them into the sugar. The more corn in the base of a whisky, the sweeter and lighter the finished bottle tastes.

Other flavours are added at later stages, which is how whisky can taste so layered and complex.

Alcohol and Distilleries

Malting – Making Single Malts

The reason behind malting, is to produce as much sugar as possible from your starchy beginnings, which is then converted to alcohol after fermentation, giving the whisky its significant alcohol kick.

These receipts are known as the mash bill, and malting is another place where underlying sweetness is created in different whiskies, with varieties like bourbon or in white whiskies, their distinct flavour is created on this early on in the mix.

So after choosing the ingredients in your chosen mash bill, the barley or corn is soaked in warm water for a couple of days, laid out to dry across the floor of the malting house, starts to germinate and is then promptly dried out in smoked heat – all on the floor of the distillery.

Adding things like wood chips or peat at this stage will give different whiskies a smokier flavour, most popular in Scotch or single malt varietals.

Rye – Forward Whiskies

Adding more rye to the mash bill can also create another dimension when compared to standard single malt. Adding rye will give the drink more bite and a nuttier, deeper flavour.

Rye will also deepen the colour and aroma of most single malts which whisky connoisseurs will either find favourable or not, so looking for rye-forward will lend itself to be drunk either with soda water or on its own, and is not a good mix in a cocktail or with mixer.

And with such a distinctive flavour, rye-forward whiskies should be approached with caution.

Fermentation and Maturation

After being ground down and pruned of unwanted off cuts, this smoked dried germinated mixture or grist is then heated, so that the starches are slowly turned to alcohol through the fermentation process.

This is how the majority of the difference is made with regards to flavour, depth and alcoholic volume.

These differences are down to the percentages of how these four ingredients are combined before fermenting.

Most distilleries are then selective with how they mature their whiskies, as they can be done in anything from metal tanks, to oaked barrels and from anytime up to a century before being considered finished and ready to drink.


Michael Bredahl

Michael Bredahl

Wine Writer

Michael is an online enthusiast, with a lot of knowledge about online marketing. Traveling around the world to hunt for the perfect wine. Latest on Sicily, where Etna has a huge impact on the taste, which is strong with a bitter aftertaste for the youngest wines, but older wines are fantastic. Drinking wine, and writing about them, are one the passions. Remember to drink responsibly 🙂

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