By Maggie Walters


Whether you're a diehard Pappy Van Winkle fan, or just getting in on the craft whiskey movement, looking at an aisle full of ornate bottles with various flashy labels may be hard to digest. 

Here's a breakdown of some label terms and what they mean (and hey, you may be able to impress some dinner guests with this info too!).

What is Whiskey? 

Plain and simple: whisky is an alcoholic liquor distilled from a fermented mash of grain, as barley, rye, or corn. The difference between whiskeys is going to vary with what type of grain is used for the mash.

I like to look at it as whiskey being a large umbrella that encompasses many styles. They following are some of the major styles.


Bourbon is distilled from mash that is at-least (key word here) 51% corn. Bourbon also has to be 100% made in the US, and aged in charred, new oak barrels to be labeled as such. There is rumor out there that bourbon has to come from Kentucky to be bourbon, and although that southern state produces a large chunk or what we see in the market, bourbon production is not restricted to just that state. 


The same rules apply here as bourbon but,

  1. They use a charcoal filtration is their distillation process.
  2. It has to come from the state of Tennessee. 


This whiskey of course has rye included as one of the grains in the mash, but it depends on where in the world you get it from for the percentage present. 

From the US the ratio is similar to bourbon, rye must be at-least 51% of the mash and it has to be aged in charred, new oak. From Canada, there are no restrictions. This means a Canadian whiskey can be as little as 5% rye or as much as 100%. It's up to the consumer to do a little digging. 

No matter the origin, rye whiskey must be aged a minimum of two years to be called "straight whiskey".


Scotch is distilled from malted barley, which of course, makes it a whiskey. It does have a couple of distinctions, 

  1. 100% has to come from Scotland, and be made from Scotland (makes since right?) 
  2. No fermentation additives or short cuts permitted
  3. The spirit must be aged in oak casks for minimum of three years.


Irish whiskey is any whiskey aged in Ireland. Any cereal grain can be used, but if two or more grains are used, it has to be labeled as "blended". Irish whiskey must also be aged in wooden casks for a minimum of 3 years. The rest is up to the distilled to create what style they want, so you can get a lot of diversity here! 

Whether you're just getting into whiskey and would like some beginner suggestions, or you're delving into specific isle scotches, our knowledgeable staff at Colonial will be happy to help you on your whiskey journey!  

I hope this helps with label reading, or add some conversation to the dinner table!

Until next time, Cheers!