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Whiskey Ingredients List: 3 Main Components (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Whiskey enthusiasts will surely agree that all whiskeys are not created equal. Whiskey is made from any grain, but the flavor will vary depending on the type of grain and ingredients used. 

Many of us are familiar with the common mash bill widely used to make whiskey, but there are main ingredients behind making fine whiskey.

Today, we will walk you through the whiskey ingredients list, so continue reading. 

Ingredients You Need To Make Whiskey

Ingredients You Need To Make Whiskey

Whiskey, sometimes spelled whisky, is a complex spirit with a long history. The distilling techniques were brought to Scotland and Ireland sometime by monks in 1100 and 1300.

The basic ingredients of whiskey are simple, but the variations in how these ingredients are sourced and combined result in diverse flavors and styles.

The three main ingredients of every whiskey are water, grain, and yeast.

American whiskeys are bound to follow certain requirements on whiskey production and comply with the necessary whiskey ingredients.

Depending on its strict regulations, additives and aging in oak barrels are part of the final product.  

3 Main Ingredients 

3 Main Ingredients 

1. Water

Bucket of Water on desk

In Scotland, whisky is commonly referred to as Uisge Beatha, which means aqua vitae or water of life [1].

Water is involved throughout the process of whiskey making, and it is a big part of many distilleries’ history as most chose a site with a perfect water source nearby. 

Water has two roles in whiskey production: (1) ingredient and (2) distillation.

Distillers will use the water for cooking the grains; it is also used to heat the stills in the distillation process. 

Also, water helps reduce the alcohol strength before bottling; a 40% alcohol in a bottle contains 60% water (except for cask strength whisky). 

2. Grains/Cereal

Grains on table

Distilleries will never complete whiskey making without an agricultural product like cereal/grain that undergoes a fermentation process. A fermented grain can be a mixture of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. 

Depending on the type of whiskey, the distilled spirit should contain a certain amount of grain to comply with the strict regulation of whiskey production.

For instance, a bourbon should contain at least 51% corn [2], while rye whiskeys must contain at least 51% rye on their mash bill. 

Aside from the aging process, the cooked grain will give the whiskey its flavor profile. It is one of the main reasons why even each whiskey type has a different taste. 

3. Yeast

Yeast on desk

Yeast is a very important ingredient in the spirit because there will be no alcohol without it.

Yeast converts starch into sugar and adds flavor to the whiskey. Some distilleries, especially the old ones like Jim Beam, use a specific old yeast, similar to what they used in 1933. 

Modern distilleries use yeast strains that were handed down from generation to generation.

Larger distillers’ yeast strains are proprietary and kept away with backup supplies off-site as it is the key to unlocking the spirit’s flavor. 

Optional 

Optional 

Aging The Wood

Whiskeys should be aged in wooden barrels for a certain time; however, aging the wood is optional in whiskey making.

There are no provisions or requirements for the age of oak casks, but distilleries use 80-100-year-old oak trees to age American whiskey. 

Additives

Additives

Not all whiskeys are required to have additives, but according to US regulation, whiskeys can contain up to 2.5% added flavors, but that does not apply to “straight whiskeys.”

More whiskey brands use spices, flavorings, and spices during the distillation or aging process to achieve a distinctive character appearance on their spirits. 

11 Whiskey Types & Their Ingredients

11 Whiskey Types & Their Ingredients

1. Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky should be distilled, aged for a minimum of three years, and bottled in Scotland.

Other Scotch whiskies like Blended Scotch can be distilled by more than one distillery. 

However, Single Malt Scotch whisky producers operate in specific Scottish regions and should make it from Scottish water and single malted grain. It should be made by a single distillery using malted barley. 

2. Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon Whiskey

The whiskey is made from 51% corn and other grains like rye, wheat, and barley.

Since Kentucky bourbon is considered an American native spirit, it should follow strict regulations on its production process.

The smooth whiskey should be aged for at least two years in new charred white oak barrels and should not contain any additives. 

3. Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey should contain at least 51% rye on its mash bill, and since the primary grain has a signature sting, it is known for its peppery bite and spicy flavor notes. 

Many distillers use a higher percentage of rye for an irresistible and extra spicy flavor.

Arbikie Distillery was an early adapter in Scotland and now produces rye whisky aged in wooden casks. 

4. Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is made from at least 51% corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley.

It undergoes filtration in charcoal produced from burnt wood of sugar maples before aging in charred oak barrels.

The filtration helps remove impurities and unwanted congeners for a smooth whiskey. 

5. Corn Whiskey

Corn whiskey is made from corn, malt, water, and yeast. It should be composed of 80-90% corn with 10-20% grain (malted) to supply enzymes.

Most corn whiskey produces corn and malted barley; the sugar-rich liquid is distilled before aging in used or uncharred oak barrels. 

6. Single-Malt Whiskey

Single-Malt Whiskey

Single malt whiskey is a blend of malt whiskeys made at a lone distillery using one type of grain (malted).

It is fermented with yeast to turn into alcohol and then distilled, usually in traditional copper pot stills. It is aged in barrels before blending and bottling. 

7. Wheat Whiskey

When it comes to whiskey, wheat is the dominant grain in wheat whiskey, followed by other grains like corn, malt, and rye.

Red winter is commonly used for whiskey; this grain gives a soft and sweet flavor. 

8. Canadian Whisky

Canadian Whisky

The whisky should be mashed, distilled, and produced in Canada. The mashed grain is distilled and aged in wood barrels for three years with not less than 40% ABV.

Moreso, it can contain flavorings and caramel. 

9. Japanese Whisky

Most Japanese whisky is made like Scotch as it uses malted barley and is aged in wood barrels.

It is distilled twice to remove congeners and aged sometimes in American oak, Sherry casks, or Japanese Mizunara oak for unique characteristics. 

10. Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskeys are like Scotch minus the smoky quality because the malt is not exposed to smoke during roasting.

The main ingredients are barley, malt (germinated or sprouted barley), and water. Irish whiskey undergoes triple distillation for a lighter body and smoother flavor profile. 

11. Moonshine

Moonshine can be made from grain like corn or rye, but alcohol can be made from different ingredients, so during Prohibition, moonshiners used white sugar instead. 

It is a high-proof spirit usually produced illegally, and the name was derived from their nighttime production to avoid detection.  

How Is Whiskey Made? 

How Is Whiskey Made? 

Whiskey is made from fermented grains like corn, rye, barley, and wheat. The mash is cooked and fermented using yeast before undergoing distillation.

After distillation, it undergoes maturation in wood barrels for a certain time before bottling in glass bottles. 

FAQs 

What grains can be used to make whiskey?

Corn, rye, wheat, and barley are used to make whiskey. The grains will give the taste and aroma of the spirit along with aging. 

Can you make whiskey without barley?

Yes, you can make whiskey without barley. However, barley is mainly used for its enzyme properties that help break down simple sugars from grains, so most distillers use it. 

In Conclusion

The word whiskey came from Gaelic Uisge Beatha, which means water of life, and it is made from water, grains, and yeast. 

While the basic ingredients of whiskey are fairly simple, the exact recipe, types of whiskey, and production process can vary significantly from one distillery to another.

As a result, a wide variety of whiskeys are available on the market, each with its distinct flavor profile. 

References:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/whiskey  
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/04/5-rules-that-make-it-bourbon.html

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