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February 27, 2014
Last updated

Whiskey Recipes - Grains, Proof, and Aging

Chief Operating Officer at Clawhammer

Whiskey Recipe Basics

Whiskey is made from a variety of different grains including barley, rye, wheat and corn. Different types of whiskies use different types of grains. For example, Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn. Single grain scotch is made with 100% malted barley. Read on for more information on whiskey styles and recipes.

Whiskey Recipe Basics

Before we get started, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

First Things First - Malted Grains

Malted grains are a critical part of every whiskey recipe. In fact, without malt enzymes, it would not be possible to make whiskey with ingredients like corn, barley, or rye. Malted grain is simply grain that has been sprouted. When grain sprouts, the seed creates enzymes capable of converting starch into sugar. Since yeast eat sugar to make alcohol, and grains such as corn and barley are mostly starch, these enzymes play a very important role. They convert grain starch into sugar during the mashing process, making fermentation possible.

Second Things Second - "Basic Whiskey"

Legally speaking (yes, certain legal requirements must be met for all of the spirits we'll list in this article), "whiskey" is defined as follows: Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). 

The addition of food coloring IS allowed. These characteristics are what define whiskey in general, and the requirements must be met for any spirit to include the word "whiskey" on the label. However, as we'll discuss below, if certain additional requirements are met, other labels may be used.

Bourbon (Kentucky or Otherwise)

The first thing you need to know about Bourbon is that all Bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is Bourbon. If we just blew your mind, keep reading, we'll clarify. The second thing you need to know is that Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S. More below.

For a whiskey to be labeled "Bourbon," it must be fermented from a mash of not less than 51 percent corn, distilled at no higher than 160 proof, stored in new charred American white oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.

Bourbon has no minimum aging requirement. It can be aged as little as one day and labeled Bourbon, but food coloring may NOT be added. "Straight Bourbon" must be aged for at least 2 years in new charred American white oak barrels.

Bourbon must be distilled in the United states, but regular ol' bourbon does NOT need to be distilled in Kentucky (as many people believe). However, to label something "Kentucky Bourbon," all of the above mentioned requirements must be met and it must be distilled in Kentucky. Sooo, what then is the difference between Kentucky Bourbon and Generic Bourbon? Well, aside from the physical location, it'd be the water. Kentucky prides itself as a state with superior water for distilling, as the earth beneath it is rich in limestone.

For more information on Bourbon, check out this article we wrote on how to make Bourbon.

Tennessee Whiskey

The first thing you need to know about Tennessee Whiskey is that it isn’t Bourbon...or at least it isn't called Bourbon. Folks get this confused from time to time. The second thing you need to know is that, as far a we know it, there is only one small detail that legally differentiates it from regular ol' whiskey (as defined above), which is the process of charcoal mellowing.

During the charcoal mellowing process whiskey is slowly seeped through vats packed with charcoal. The charcoal used for mellowing must be made with the wood of sugar maple trees. To be labeled "Tennessee Whiskey" the spirit must be charcoal mellowed before aging. Some folks say that this removes too much flavor. Other folks say it makes the final product that much better.

For more information, check out our article on how to make whiskey.

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is made from a fermented mash containing not less than 51 percent rye. It must come off of the still at no more than 160 proof and must be stored in charred new oak barrels. However, there is no minimum aging requirement, so one day will do! Food coloring may be (and probably will be) added. Rye whiskey is know for its spicy character and has gained a fair amount of popularity in recent years.

"Straight rye whiskey" must be aged for at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels and food coloring may not be added. 

Wheat Whiskey

Wheat whiskey is a style of whiskey mashed with a grain bill primarily consisting of wheat. In fact, the mashing ingredients must be at least 51% wheat. It must come off of a still at no higher than 160 proof, and must be denatured (watered down) to 125 proof or less before aging. It must be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least one day and food coloring may be added.

"Straight wheat whiskey must be aged for at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels and coloring may not be added.

Corn Whiskey

Corn whiskey mash must contain at least 80% corn and it must come off of a still at 160 proof or less. There is no aging requirement whatsoever for corn whiskey. However, if aged, it may be stored in new charred oak containers and must enter the barrel at a proof no higher than 160. It may also be aged in used barrels and must enter the barrel at 125 proof or less. Additionally, manufacturers are not allowed to subject corn whiskey to any manner of "treatment with charred wood." We assume that this means, corn whiskey is not allowed to be filtered or "charcoal mellowed" like Tennessee Whiskey.

Check out our article on how to make corn whiskey for more info.

Malt Whiskey

In the United States malt whiskey must be produced from fermented mash including no less than 51% malted barley and aged in new charred oak barrels. If this whiskey is aged at least two years, contains no additives for taste or color, and has not been mixed with neutral alcohols or other types of whiskey, it can legally be called straight malt whiskey. If a whiskey is not straight malt but contains at least 51% straight malt whiskey, it must be called blended malt whiskey.

Scotch Whisky

There are several types of Scotch Whisky. We'll focus on Single Malt Scotch Whisky here. In a nutshell, there are two things you need to know about this style of alcohol. First, the Scottish spell "whiskey" differently than we do. They omit the "e" and spell it "whisky." If you plan on entering any spelling bee competitions in Scotland, remember this. It will definitely come up. Second, Single Malt Scotch is made with 100% malted barley. 

Barley is a common ingredient in most beers and whisky but using 100% malted barley is primarily unique to Scotch. Distillers generally only use 15-20% malted grains in their recipes and the rest is not malted. In most cases, a grain-bill of 20% malt contains enough enzymes to convert the starch in the entire batch of grains into sugar. However, the whisky loving folks in Scotland insist that a grain bill of 100% malted grains produces the best whisky. Additionally, all Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Scotch whisky distilleries often store their product in used Bourbon barrels. See the section below on Bourbon to find out why.


Keep in mind that this article is a review of the legal definitions of spirits made and sold in the United States. In this article, and on our site in general, we refer to moonshine that is legally sold on the shelves of liquor stores. That said, according to TTB rules, there are virtually no rules or regulations on what can be called moonshine, how it needs to be made, whether or not it needs to be aged, whether or not food coloring or artificial flavoring can be added, etc. To learn how commercial distillers make moonshine, check out our post on how to make moonshine.

Emmet Leahy is the Chief Operating Officer and lead product developer at Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company. He loves the process of developing new equipment for making beer at home just as much as he does using it to brew his own beer. He's also passionate about teaching people how to use distillation equipment to produce distilled water, essential oils, and with the proper permits, fuel alcohol and distilled spirits.

  • B, how much water do you put in
    With the corn meal and sugar

    Posted by Scott on December 29, 2020
  • ive been reading the comments and questions for a year now, hoping for some answers to be posted. but it hasnot happened, is there anyway to view the answeres to all these questions?????? or is it illegal??

    Posted by yoav on June 12, 2019
  • I would like to know watt is used for the
    Colouring and watt is used for the flavour & Smel;
    Apriciate to know that ingredients

    Tank You very much
    Tony Monty

    Posted by Antonio Montaperto on January 05, 2018
  • I just made my first batch of shine. Kind of fun actually. It is Neat to go throw all the steps. The one I have a challenge with is separating the corn/ barley grains from the mash before stilling. I let it all fement together. Does this change the flavor? I did a 10lbs of corn to 1.5lbs of mesquite smoked barley. Seems quite sweet coming off the still. Mellowed a bit towards the second half or the hearts.
    Aging now. I’ll check back in a few months.

    Posted by Rodney on January 16, 2017
  • A good way to add great color is to use burnt sugar,that’s how they did it years ago

    Posted by SNeakyPete on January 10, 2017
  • Just starting and would like to try this recipe book
    Will let you know how it goes

    Posted by PAul on November 14, 2016
  • There are three types of illegal corn whiskey, sipping, selling and “skeered”. For sipping whiskey place seed quality corn in a hemp bag, dip it in the creek and toss it under the porch with the hounds until sprouted. After sprouting dry it and grind it. next add water to make a mash and let it ferment. Distill that to make sipping whiskey. If sugar and yeast are added to the mash for greater yield it becomes selling whiskey. If sprouted corn is not first dried it becomes green malt or “skeered” whiskey as this method is most often used when the shiners are in a rush and have to pack up the still and move on.

    Posted by Ed on March 31, 2016
  • Hey JMFH. I’m new to making whiskey’s, but if you’re serious, I might try your recipe. I just looked up sweet feed (that’s how urban i am). I’m gonna try it.

    Posted by Cary on January 28, 2016
  • interesting and helpful

    Posted by Bimal gazmer on October 27, 2015
  • I have a recipe that is around 71% corn and 14% barley. I want to make up the rest with wheat as a flavoring grain. Can anyone recommend what kind of wheat to use?

    Posted by ROb on October 14, 2015
  • Looking for a good rye recipe. My father says that rye is a lot smoother than corn and I wanted to try a batch. Thanks for any help.

    Posted by JOseph on June 29, 2015
  • Thanks for sharing this great post. All bourbon whiskey are good for enjoy & spend great time. We have launched a new bourbon whiskey brand cavalry bourbon whiskey. This whiskey taste really good. Thanks for this!

    Posted by cavalry bourbon on June 29, 2015
  • Four inches of sweet feed in the bottom of a five gallon bucket. Six pounds of sugar. I like to heat up three gallons of water jot quite to a boil then add the sugar stir until it dissolves. Then add the sweet feed and kill the heat. Let it steep for about 10 minutes. Now top off with cold water. Its still usually pretty hot at this point. So i drop in a bubble stone and aerate. It helps cool it down and its good to put air in it for the yeast But since you didnt boil there is still plenty of oxygen in the mash so if you don’t have a bubbler just let it cool to 100 degrees or less. I like to start my yeast with the cooled wart. Now throw the yeast and keep the pale insulated. This recipe works great . It will be ready in 6 to seven days. Oh i almost forgot 2 grams of red star distillers yeast per gallon.

    Posted by jmfh on May 07, 2015
  • How about a sweet feed recipe .i tried one and didn’t work out

    Posted by Rich on February 09, 2015
  • Many whiskey recipes say to use a pot still and distill twice or use a thumper. How do you run a clawhammer still to simulate that?

    Posted by Dick on February 04, 2015
  • I did my first ever mash. Very basic and turned out over 170 proof. Taste very good! Alwinel I did was buy
    uy a pound of corn meal, pound of sugar and flechermans bread yeast. One packet. Boiled water put sugar and corn meal in desolved both. Then put in bucket to cool for around 90 minutes. Then added yeast. Leave sealed and open every couple days n give a shake check bubbles. Once they
    Slow down it’s about ready. I let sit for about 5to 6 days. Should taste like a sweet wine. gallon of water with sugar and corn meal boiled. Then after cooled add smoother gallon of cool water then yeast. Cap bucket let sit 5 days. Came out 170 proof

    Posted by b on February 02, 2015
  • I am trying to figure out how to shine. corn whisky

    Posted by kwame agyeman on December 12, 2014
  • I would like to know if you have a sweet feed recipe you like or just find any off the web?

    Posted by Wayne Ambrose on May 03, 2014
  • Hi, when making your mash is there any difference between corn and sweet corn? or are all seeds the same? and can your foreshots, heads and tails be put in your gas tank ? octane or no octane thanks great site going to buy 10 gal this summer jerry

    Posted by jerry on April 09, 2014
  • what is the cost of the ingredients to make one gallon of scotch?

    Posted by lonnie on March 17, 2014

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