Ahhhhh, whiskey—we know it, we love it, we want some more of it. This amber alcohol is a favorite all around the globe for its rich flavor. While whiskey is often sipped neat or on the rocks, it also makes a killer cocktail. Let’s talk about the three most popular types of whiskeys home mixologist’s should stock on their bar cart to mix up everything from refreshing summer Highballs to bold cold-weather cocktails.
Types of Whiskey
Whiskey is a broad umbrella term for any distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash that has at least 40% alcohol. That leaves distillers a lot of room to play around and get creative with their ingredients and materials. Most whiskeys share some common flavors—spicy top notes with an earthy base—but they pick up many different flavor notes depending on where and how they’re made.
You’ll typically see whiskeys distinguished both by their country of origin (Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, Japanese whiskey, etc.) and by the grains used to make them (either in a single malt with one type of grain or blended malt). Different regions tend to introduce different flavors to their whiskey. For instance, Japanese whiskeys tend to have a precisely balanced combination of dry, smokey, peat-y notes while American whiskeys favor bold flavors with a sweet, smooth finish. The grain at their core also plays a role in the final flavor. Corn adds a sweetness to whiskey, while rye adds spice!
There’s a lot of nuance to the many varieties of whiskey out there. (Sampling whiskeys can become a full hobby all on its own!) And when it comes to mixing up a drink with whiskey, there are three popular types in the American cocktail scene that you should know:
- Bourbon: An American-made, corn-based whiskey aged in charred oak barrels. Typically the sweetest type of whiskey with notes of caramel and vanilla and a hint of smoke from the barrels.
- Rye: Similar to bourbon, American-made rye whiskeys are aged in charred oak barrels but use rye as their primary grain. The rye makes for a drier drink with spicier flavor and fruity notes. TIP: Many Canadian whiskeys are also labeled as rye whiskey regardless of their actual grain content, so read the label carefully if you have your heart set on rye flavor!
- Scotch: Scotch whiskey is so infamous that Americans drop the “whiskey” from the name and simply call it Scotch. All Scotch whiskeys must be made in Scotland and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. The grains (most commonly barley) are often fired on peat, giving the typical Scotch a complex and smokey taste.
Having a basic knowledge of these three varieties will get you through many a whiskey conversation and most whiskey cocktail recipes. Hit the liquor store to sample each type neat to understand the flavor notes. Then you can get to our favorite part: mixing them up into some drinks!
Our Whiskey Cocktail Recipes
Whiskey cocktails are classic and delicious, and we give you full permission to ignore any whiskey snobs who insist that whiskey is only meant to be sipped plain. You can sub your favorite types of whiskey into any recipe that simply calls for “whiskey,” or you can search for recipes tailored to your go-to. Here are three of our favorite whiskey cocktail recipes to get you started—one for bourbon, one for rye, and one for Scotch.
2 oz Night Owl-infused bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Luxardo cherry for garnish
Pour bourbon, vermouth, and bitters into a mixing glass over ice and stir gently until well-chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a pick or right in the drink. Settle into your favorite armchair and get cozy—you’ve got allllll night to kick back and enjoy this baby.
2 oz At the Orchard-infused rye whiskey
3 oz apple cider
3 oz ginger beer
.5 oz lemon juice
Apple slice for garnish
Pour all ingredients into a highball glass over ice and stir gently. Garnish with an apple slice and drink in the flavors of a fresh apple pie without ever having to turn on the oven.
1.5 oz Scotch
.5 oz amaretto
Lemon twist for garnish
Pour Scotch and amaretto into a mixing glass over ice and stir gently until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass and add a large ice cube. Twist a sliver of lemon peel over the glass to release the oils and drop it into the drink. Take a sip and try not to be overcome with the panache of a 1950s mob boss.