Distillers use

collage of world whisky bottles

AUSTRALIAN WHISKY

In 2017 there were more than 120 whiskey-making distilleries in Australia, 31 in the State of Tasmania. The majority are small, craft distilleries granted, but it is reflective of the growing interest domestic whisky distilling has achieved in the past thirty years.

These numbers are even more amazing considering the sparsity of distilleries in Australia before 1992. That year Bill and Lynn Lark founded Lark Distilleries in Tasmania. Before then there had been only one whisky distillery (legal distillery) in Australia, and that was Corio Distillery. Although the largest distillery in the Southern Hemisphere until its closure in 1986, Corio Distillery was not highly regarded.

But all that changed in 2014 when Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask won the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky by the Worlds Whiskies Awards. In 2018, the distillery won the title of World’s Best Single Cask Malt. It appears the Australian whisky industry is mirroring the success of its highly successful wine industry.

Legalities – In Australia, it is the law that whisky, must be stored in wood for no less than two (2) years. It is also the law that “whisky” means a spirit obtained by the distillation of a fermented liquor of a mash of cereal grain in such a manner that the spirit possesses the taste, aroma and other characteristics generally attributed to whisky.

CANADIAN WHISKY

  • Shall be a potable alcoholic distillate, or a mixture of potable alcoholic distillates, obtained from a mash of cereal grain or cereal grain products saccharified by the diastase of malt or by other enzymes and fermented by the action of yeast or a mixture of yeast and other micro-organisms,
  • Must be aged in small wood for not less than three years,
  • Shall possess the aroma, taste, and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky,
  • Must be mashed, distilled and aged in Canada,
  • Shall contain not less than 40% alcohol by volume; and
  • May contain caramel and flavoring.

INDIAN WHISKY

Last year, (2018) for the first time, the Union government standardized alcohol as a consumable product beyond tax purposes, and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) came up with the draft Food Safety and Standards (Alcoholic Beverages Standards) Regulations, 2016, which defined various kinds of alcohol and their types.

According to the original draft, “Whisky is an alcoholic beverage made from neutral grain spirit or rectified grain spirit, or neutral spirit or their mixture or is made by distilling the fermented extract of malted cereal grains such as corn, rye, barley; or molasses.”

Legalities: Whisky is an alcoholic beverage made by distilling the fermented extract of malted cereal grains such as corn, rye, barley, or using neutral grain spirit or rectified grain spirit, or neutral spirit of agricultural origin, or their mixture.

That is a pretty broad definition, but the regulations further classify malt or grain whisky as a distillate obtained from a fermented mash of malted or unmalted cereals or a mixture of both with characteristic aroma and taste.

Indian regulations go on to define two whisky types: Single malt whisky: Single malt whisky is a distillate obtained from fermented mash that uses one particular malted grain or malted barley, distilled in a pot still only, and produced from a single distillery. Blended malt whisky or blended grain whisky: Blended malt or grain whisky shall be a mixture of at least 2% from barley malt or grain whisky, with neutral or rectified spirit.

IRISH WHISKY

Irish whiskey must be distilled on the island of Ireland (comprising the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) from a mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals and which has been:

  • saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes;
  • fermented by the action of yeast;
  • distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% alcohol by volume (ABV) and bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV
  • subject to the maturation of the final distillate for at least three years in wooden casks, such as oak, not exceeding 700 liters (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) capacity
  • maturation only takes place on the island of Ireland

Irish whiskey can come in one of four varieties:

  • single malt – produced from 100% malted barley made at a single distillery
  • a single pot still – produced from a mix of malted and unmalted barley made at a single distillery in a small batch copper pot still
  • single grain – produced from a combination of grains but created at a single distillery
  • blended – produced from a combination of malted whiskies from different distilleries. Often mixed with other cereal grains such as wheat, rye or corn.

JAPANESE WHISKY

There is no legal definition for Japanese whisky, at least not yet. The Japanese have been producing whisky of one kind or another for over a hundred years. But, it’s only over the last decade that Japanese whisky has become a major player in the world market. The rise of Japanese whisky began in 2001 when Whisky Magazine named Nikka’s 10-year-old Yoichi as the “Best of the Best.” Then in 2015, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible named Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as the world’s best whisky.

While the subsequent explosion in demand for Japanese whisky is good for Japan’s distillers, it has increased pressure on the Japanese whisky industry to define Japanese whisky legally. Currently, regulations governing whisky production, marketing, and distribution are very loose. For instance, Japanese distillers import much of the whisky used in their blends from the United Kingdom. In some cases, foreign whisky might constitute 80-90% of the blend. And until recently, it was common for distillers to use neutral spirits made from molasses or even potatoes in their blends.

Times are changing and very few Japanese distillers continue to blend with neutral spirits. However, foreign whiskies continue to play a major role in the Japanese whisky industry.  Industry figures indicate that the import value of bulk blended Scotch whisky to Japan almost quadrupled from 2014 to 2015, to 3.8 million US dollars.

Furthermore, to add to the confusion, Shōchū is a popular Japanese spirit distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, or brown sugar.  However, instead of using yeast during the fermentation process, the distillers use Koji, a filamentous fungus. However, because the make Shōchū from cereal (barley, rice, or buckwheat) and mature it in oak casks, it can be labeled as whisky in the United States. So, make sure you read the label before laying out your cash.

For the consumer, this ambiguity is concerning, especially given the escalating price of Japanese whiskies in recent years. To sustain this momentum,  Japanese distillers and the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association, concede that some clarity is needed. Some industry watchdogs believe that we may have a definition of Japanese whisky and supporting regulations sometime in 2020.

Until then, it’s important to do your research before diving into this market. There is no doubt that there are some excellent Japanese whiskies out there but, remember the adage, “Buyer Beware.” Carefully reading the label is a good start. But you may want to go a little further before shelling out a hundred dollars or more for an unfamiliar dram.

SCOTTISH WHISKY

“Scotch whisky” is:

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
  • Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% (190 US proof)
  • Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters(185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years
  • Retaining the color, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
  • Containing no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel coloring
  • Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% (80 US proof)

Distillers use several types of Scotch whisky to create blends:

  • Single malt Scotch whisky means a Scotch whisky produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills. The whisky must be processed, at a single distillery into a mash, converted at that same distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems. It must also be fermented at that same distillery by adding only yeast and not any other catalyst.
  • Single grain Scotch whisky means a Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery but, in addition to water and malted barley, may involve whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals.
  • Blends consisting of whiskies made at more than one distillery. Blended Scotch Whisky contains a mix of cereals. Some blends may also contain only malt whisky made at two or more distilleries. These whiskies were once referred to as vatted whiskies. Today they are referred to as Blended Malt Whiskies.

SOUTH AFRICAN WHISKY

In 1881, A. H. Nellmapius opened the first legal distillery in Pretoria. The Transvaal Government granted him a concession to distill alcohol liquor from corn and other sources.  However, the Anglo Boer War in 1889 brought an early end to South Africa’s whisky industry. After the war, the British canceled the concession. It would be another 63 years before another whisky distillery opened its doors in South Africa.

But it was not until the R & B Distillery opened in the 1970s that South African whisky gained a strong foothold. And the future of the industry looks very bright. In 2018, the World Whisky Awards crowned Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky the World’s Best Grain Whisky.

Legalities – South Africa’s whisky regulations mimic those of the major whiskey-producing countries and are as follow:

  1. Grain Whisky –
    1. Must be produced from a mash of grain
    2. Sugar conversion must be brought about by the diastase of the malt, with or without other natural enzymes.
    3. Must be fermented by the activity of yeast
    4. Need be distilled at less than 94.8 % ABV
    5. Must be matured for at least three years in wooden casks with a capacity of not more than 700 liters
    6. Need have an alcohol content of at least 43% ABV
  2. Malt Whisky
    1. Be produced from a mash of malt-
    2. Sugar conversion must be brought about by the diastase of the malt, with or without other natural enzymes.
    3. Must be fermented by the activity of yeast
    4. Need be distilled in a pot-still so that the distillate has a flavor and taste originating from the raw material use;
    5. Be matured for at least three years in wooden casks with a capacity of not more than 700 liters
  3. Blended Whisky
    1. Consist of a mixture of at least 25%, calculated malt whisky and not more than 75%, grain whisky
    2. have an alcohol content of at least 43%

TAIWANESE WHISKY

Taiwan is one of the latest whisky players to come to the table. On January 1, 2002, Taiwan became a member of the World Trade Organization. And in 2006 Kavalan distillery became the first private distillery in Taiwan. In 2015 the World Whiskies Awards voted Kavalan’s Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength the world’s best single malt whisky. Taiwanese whiskies have continued to win awards.

Legalities – As far as I can discern, Taiwanese whisky is cereal-based, matured not less than two years in wood containers and bottled at not less than 40% ABV. However, barley does not grow in Taiwan, so Taiwanese distilleries import all the malt for whisky production. It is my understanding that Taiwan distillers age their whisky in American and European oak casks.

AMERICAN WHISKY

The American whisky industry is one of the most regulated whisky industries in the world. Laws not only govern the making of whisky but also the labeling, marketing, and sale. By definition American whiskey is an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey, stored in oak containers (except that corn whisky need not be so stored), and bottled at not less than 80° proof.

However, things don’t stop there. The law goes on the define several sub-classifications of American whisky.

Legal Definitions for American Whiskey:

  • “Specific Type Whiskey” (i.e.“Bourbon whisky”, “rye whisky”, “wheat whisky”, etc)bottle of wild turkey 101
    • whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof
    • a mash of not less than 51 % corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain,
    • stored at not more than 125° proof
    • in charred new oak containers.
  • “Corn whisky”
    • whisky produced at not exceeding 160°
    • not less than 80 percent corn grain, and
    • stored at not more than 125° proof
    • in used or uncharred new oak containers
    • not subjected (in any manner) to treatment with charred wood
  • “Straight (specific type) Whiskeys” (i.e “straight bourbon, wheat, rye, malt, or corn)
    • 51 % or more of any one type of grain
    • stored in charred new oak containers
    • for two (2) years or more
  • “Straight Whiskey”
    • less than 51 % of any one type of grain, and
    • stored in charred new oak containers
    • stored for two years (2) or more
  • “Light Whiskey”
    • produced in the United States at
    • more than 160° proof, (on or after January 26, 1968) and
    • stored in used or uncharred new oak containers.
    • If mixed with less than 20 % of straight whisky,
      • the mixture shall be designated “blended light whisky.”
  • “Blended Whiskey”
    • the mixture which contains straight whisky or a blend of straight whiskies at
    • not less than 20 % on a proof gallon basis,
    • excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials, and, separately, or in combination, whisky or neutral spirits.
  • “Blended (specific type) whiskey”
    • A blended whisky containing not less than 51 % of one of the types of straight whisky
  • “Blend of Straight Whiskies” (blended straight whiskies)
    • a mixture of straight whiskies which does not conform to the standard of identify for “straight whisky.” Products so designated may contain harmless coloring, flavoring, or various blending materials
  • “A blend of (specific type) straight whiskies)
    • consisting entirely of one of the types of straight whisky, and
    • not conforming to the standard for straight whisky, shall be further designated by that specific type of straight whisky; for example, “a blend of straight rye whiskies” (blended straight rye whiskies).
    • “A blend of straight whiskies” consisting entirely of one of the types of straight whisky shall include straight whisky of the same type which was produced in the same State or by the same proprietor within the same State, provided that such whisky contains harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials.
    • The harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials allowed under this section shall not include neutral spirits or alcohol in their original state.

Neutral spirits or alcohol may only appear in a “blend of straight whiskies” or in a “blend of (specific type) of straight whiskies