How to Read and Decode Whiskey Labels

Whiskey Labels Bottle

The more you begin sipping on whiskey and enjoying the complexities that are in your tumbler, the thirstier you’ll be for knowledge. Luckily, knowledge is right at your fingertips. Here are the essential nuggets of information you can ascertain from a whiskey label and how it can impact your whiskey tasting experience.

Distiller

In the alcohol industry, we like to give credit where it’s due, hence why the name of distilleries and spirit makers are often front and center on labels. Yet, knowing the name of the distillery can also clue you into other elements such as traditional aging and cooperage methods the distillery uses in their whiskey making. It’s false and inaccurate to assume that macro-distilleries are the only option for tasty whiskey. Micro-distilleries are a booming trend worldwide. Micro-distilleries has even claimed awards in world-wide competitions making them a force to be reckoned with.

Location

Whiskey is distilled all around the world, which means that there are different standards and regulations that a whiskey needs to meet. This determines the type of whiskey that is distilled and also affects how it will taste. For instance, Irish whiskeys are known for their lighter taste and must be made with malted or unmalted barley, then aged in barrels, usually old aged bourbon barrels. What grains are used and how long the liquor is aged depends on the country and their traditional practices.

Alcohol

You’ve probably heard of “whiskey tax” or an added surcharge that is slapped onto the bottle with a higher alcohol content on 40 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). This is because these whiskeys are considered more luxurious. This is because these whiskeys took longer to age and, therefore, are considered a form of art by some.

Whiskeys with a higher alcohol content contain more robust, hearty, bitter spices. Higher-proofed whiskeys also showcase the more mellow notes that whiskey is well-known for including vanilla, almond, oak and glimpses of fruit and floral notes. whiskeys with a lower proof often boast sugary profiles.

Age

Another common myth is that the older the whiskey, the better it tastes. That’s not always the case. There are so many different processes that go into distilling whiskey and getting the perfect flavors to emerge. It’s also important to note that many whiskeys are blended and the age written on the bottle is determined by the youngest whiskey inside.

Finally, if cooperage was used during the aging process will also impact the whiskey’s overall flavor profile. Cooperage often occurs in oak barrels which many of the whiskeys adopt and emerges when sampled.

Type of Whiskey

Determining what type of whiskey is housed inside the bottle depends on four things: grain used, how the whiskey was produced, where it was made and how long it matured. Each type of whiskey has its own unique attributes that are directly or sometimes indirectly impact the overall flavor. There is a lot of information that whiskey drinkers can deduce from simply reading a whiskey label. Often times there’s a lot of information behind the simple phrases or numbers used on labels that only an experienced whiskey drinker would understand.