Grain Whisky, once only used for blending, is now gaining a platform in its own right.
What is Grain Whisky?
Firstly, lets get the definition out of the way. Grain Whisky is Whisky made from any grains, including but not limited to wheat and corn.
It differs from Malt Whisky in that Malt Whisky has to be made from only malted barley.
In previous decades Grain Whisky has only be used to give a bit more body to blends, and also to lower the price on blends, as it is cheaper to produce that Malt.
Recently however, there has been more of an interest in Grain Whisky, and it is becoming more popular, right across the globe.
Japanese Grain Whisky Takes the Lead
There is a lot going on in Japan with Grain Whisky, and Suntory are currently producing it at the Chita Distillery. The product from here mostly goes into their Chita range.
The country is currently seeing a shortage of Malt Whisky and as such, Grain Whisky has had to pick up some of the slack.
Suntory are experimenting with Grain to see what flavour profiles they can build. They are using different casks for maturation as well as trying out different strengths to see what thy get. The grains they are focussing on include Wheat, Rye and Corn.
Suntory’s rivals, Nikka and Kirin are also looking to Grain to solve their Malt shortage. Both are producing Grain Whisky in different styles and experimenting to see what flavours can be created.
Nikka is focussing on Grain Whisky made in their Coffey stills at their Miyagikyo Distillery.
They are using different strains of yeast as well s different casks and strengths to innovate in the Grain Whisky category.
Japan is certainly leading the trend where Grain Whisky is concerned but it is closely being followed by other distilleries around the world.
New Traditions in Scotland
Scotland has distilleries like Loch Lomond and Girvan that are paving the way for a new category of Scotch Grain Whisky.
These distilleries are bottling Grain Whisky that is of a high quality and well matured and is a definite threat to Single Malt.
Loch Lomond is producing Grain Whisky that has won awards and is well known for is smoothness and distinct light bodied qualities. This being the first distillery in Scotland to produce both Grain and Malt at the same time, it is only fitting that its Grain Whisky is a challenge to the Malt throne.
Brands like Haig Club and Johnnie Walker are also turning more towards Grain Whisky. Haig Club, a Single Grain Whisky, has only been on the market for a few years, and yet it is swiftly becoming very popular.
While Scotland may be producing Grain Whisky, it is not doing so at the high standards set by the World’s Best Grain Whisky (according to the World Whisky Awards).
On the Rise in Ireland
As well as becoming more popular in Scotland, Grain Whisky is also on the rise in Ireland.
There are now several brands of Grain Whisky, including Teeling, Kilbeggan and Greenore.
To pull out more flavour from the Grain Whisky, the Irish have moved in a similar manor to the Japanese. They are employing interesting ageing and maturing techniques.
Teeling Grain Whisky is matured in Californian Red Wine casks and has won its category year after year at the World Whisky Awards.
Before Teeling was on the market, the only Grain Whisky available was Greenore, which is a perfect example of how the Irish do Grain Whisky right.
Greenore 8 Year Old Single Grain Whisky has won multiple awards. It has been created after being matured in ex-Bourbon casks, showing how the right amount of time can create a fantastic dram, no matter what else is involved.
World’s Best Grain Whisky?
This is a Grain Whisky made in South Africa, called Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskyand made from South African Yellow Maize that is double matured in first fill Bourbon casks.
The flavour is light bodied and sweet, which is not surprising given the marrying of Grain and Bourbon, both liquids with typical sweet flavour profiles.
This award winning Grain Whisky was first launched in 2009 and has a number of accolades to its name already. As well as focussing on the fact that it is Grain Whisky, the brand uses this to situate itself as a distinctly South African Whisky, with locality and category going hand in hand.
Land of the Grains
While these countries are only recently turning their hand to creating Grain Whisky that stands out on its own, places like Canada and America have producing this category of Whisky for a lot longer.
America especially has a strong industry for Grain Whiskies, with a focus on corn and rye.
There are a lot of different and equally popular styles in the American Whisky industry that are made from grains other than barely. These include Rye, Bourbon, Tennessee and Corn Whisky.
Canada likewise uses lots of different grains as well as barley to create their Whisky and the practice is more common there.
Get The Low Down on Grains – What Effect Do Different Grains Have on Flavour?
Whiskies made from Barley will have a sweeter flavour, with lots of caramel and brown sugar notes. There is also a slightly vanilla note to these drams, with an undertone of malted cereals. Barley is most commonly found in Scotch, Irish and Japanese Whisky and gives them a light body and sweet flavour profile.
Corn is mostly used in Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskies, and is richly sweet. It has a syrupy taste, with white sugar and cotton candy coming through. You can get Corn Whisky that is virtually unaged and has an incredibly sweet profile. Most Bourbons are known for the sweetness, but this is usually offset with the flvours that come from the charred barrels it is matured in.
Rye Whiskies are often matured in similarly charred barrels to Bourbon, but aren’t as sweet as corn. Rye gives the Whisky a spicier flavour, with some pepper and cinnamon coming through. This also makes the Whisky very dry. Again, this is a Whisky that is more commonly found in America and Canada.
Wheat will give a Whisky more cereal notes, with lots of brown bread and malted tones coming through. It also has a sweetness, but this differs from other grains in that it is not as saccharine and has a more honeyed taste to it. Pappy Van Winkle is famous for having wheat in the mash bill.