Confusion surrounds whiskey and the different styles of whiskey, in the world of distilled spirits. The term whiskey encompasses quite a lot, similar to the word beer. There are several styles of beer such as India pale ales, pilseners and hefeweizens, while the range of styles that whiskey encompasses, includes Bourbon, rye, Irish, Canadian and Scotch whiskey among others.
Whiskey actually is beer that has been through the distilling process.
In making a distillers beer hops are not used, but apart from that the steps before distillation are quite similar for both beer and whiskey.
How is whiskey defined? Whiskey is the product of fermented mash of grain, and is a spirit distilled at below 190 proof. Whiskey is stored in oak containers and the bottling process occurs at a minimum of 40% abv.
Although vodka and gin are the result of the distilling of a mash of grain, the uniqueness of whiskey lies in its maturation process. There is considerable difference in maturation in oak, especially with bourbon as opposed to Irish whiskey for example. However, the air permeability of oak allows for the oxidation of the distillate, as well as the release of flavor compounds through lignin and vanillin, known wood chemicals. When the distilling process is conducted at a lower alcohol by volume in the initial stages, then more congeners or flavor compounds are left in the distillate. The flavor of whiskey when bottled at a minimum 40% alcohol by volume, is not compromised and the result is a whiskey with a flavor that is richer and fuller.
It should be noted that the word whiskey is considered to be an umbrella term, with categories such as Bourbon or single malt Scotch having rules and regulations that are stricter in comparison.
Beer has an extensive variety of styles, and whiskey also is a broad description that encompasses a large number of styles.