I suppose the most famous region for producing whisky is Scotland. In Scotland the Scotch Whisky Association makes rules for what can be called whisky in Scotland. Scottish whiskies must be aged for at least 3 years in oak casks and the only ingredients allowed are water, grain, and yeast. Even though it is well recognized that a great deal of the flavour of whisky comes from the oak casks, it is not termed in ingredient (which I find strange).
The most commonly sold and consumed Scotch whisky is the blend. A blended whisky is made up of malt whisky and grain whisky. Malt whisky is made from malted barley and grain whisky can be made from any type of grain. Single malt whiskies are malt whiskies that come from a single distillery.
There is some controversy over who produced whisk(e)y first, the Scots or the Irish. Either way, Irish whiskey has just as long a history as Scotch whisky. Notice that I am spelling whisky for Scotch and whiskey for Ireland. That’s the convention which has something to do with Irish distillers trying to differentiate their product from what they believed was inferior Scotch whisky. Instead of malt whisky, a lot of Irish distilleries produce partially malt whisky. Basically, they mix malted barley with unmalted barley to make the beer that is then distilled into spirit. This has something to do with a tax that was put on malted barley back in the old times and the traditon lives on. Some Irish distilleries do produce malt whisky but a majority of them focus on making whisky for blends.
Perhaps the most famous style of American whiskey is Bourbon. In order to be called Bourbon, a whiskey must be produced in the USA and use a least 51% corn in the mash bill. It also needs to be aged in virgin oak. There are some other finer points to the rules but these are the main ones. There is also rye whiskey which as the name suggests is made from a mash bill of mostly rye. Also note that American whiskey is spelled like Irish whiskey.
The art of making Scottish style whisky was brought to Japan in the 1920’s by Masataka Taketsuru. He built the first true Japanaese whisky distillery in 1924, known as Yamazaki distillery. In terms of production, Japanese whisky is basically the same as Scotch whisky. They adhere to roughly the same rules but are not as limited due to the lack of a Scotch Whisky Associated like presence in Japan. The two major whisky companies in Japan are Suntory and Nikka. Suntory own the Yamazaki and Hakushu malt distilleries and the Chita grain distillery. Nikka own the Yoichi and Miyagikyo malt distilleries. Miyagikyo also has a grain distillery on site which uses Coffey stills. Japanese whisky has also gained attention from the notable closed distilleries Karuizawa and Hanyu. The family that owned Hanyu distillery started a new distillery called Chichibu which has been getting a lot of attention and praise.
India is actually a huge consumer and producer of whisky. In fact, if you look at total whisky consumed per country, India is easily at the top. However, there seems to be almost no regulation on what is termed whisky in India. As a consequence, not much is known about how all the various distilleries there make their whisky and it is known that some of the product they are calling whisky is made from molasses, which makes it not whisky from most standpoints. While almost all of the whisky produced in India is meant for the domestic market, there are some distilleries that focus on producing Scotch styled whisky for export. For instance Amrut and Paul John have been focusing on the premium whisky market with major distribution in Europe and the US.
There is basically only one major whisky distillery in Taiwan. Although its whisky is labeled as Kavalan, the distillery is actually called the Yuan Shan Distillery due to it being in Yuan Shan, on the lovely east coast of Taiwan. The company that owns the distillery is the King Car Group which is why some people call the distillery King Car Distillery. Due to the warmer weather in Taiwan, Taiwanese whisky matures very quickly with angel share losses of up to 15% per year. Thus they often have to bottle the whisky at a very young age which is why Kavalan rarely state the age of their whiskies. Kavalan has been gaining in popularity and prestige due the awards they have been winning with their Solist Range with major accolades going to their Solist Sherry and Solist Vinho Barrique releases.
There is a another whisky distillery in Taiwan, which has been popping up in stores recently, called Nantou Distillery. Although the company has been around since 1947 they only started producing whisky in 2008. Check out this post from Whisky for Everyone for some information on Nantou.
Swedish whisky has been trending up now for a few years with the success of the Mackmyra Distillery, Sweden’s first whisky distillery. Mackmyra are known for using some unusual casks for maturation, including casks which previously held Cloudberry Wine. Cloudberry wine has got to be the coolest sounding wine ever. Mackmyra’s success and the overall rise of the whisky industry seems to have made way for other Swedish whisky distilleries like Smögen distillery.
There has been a huge surge in whisky distillery building all around the world in the past few years. Very few of them have been exporting to a significant degree so availability is quite sporadic.