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Whisky Rules & Regulations by Country

Updated: Mar 5

Whisky pouring out of the cask to a glass

Image by Matthew Clark

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The world of whisky. Nowadays, it seems like more and more people are interested in this liquid gold as drinkers and distillers. At least 36 countries around the globe are making whisky, and new distilleries are established constantly at a rate that is sometimes hard to keep up with.

With so many countries entering the world of whisky, many of them are new to the industry without their own regulations and governing bodies. Some countries like India have been making their idea of whisky for a long time. It wasn't until quite recently in 1982 that the first Indian whisky distillery Amrut ventured into whisky - followed by the international launch of their single malt in August 2004. Countries like India mainly rely on Scottish whisky-making rules and regulations to be recognised as whisky suitable for the global market. India doesn't have regulations about whisky.

In recent years, there has been news of country-specific regulations being introduced to protect the quality of whisky that is produced and made available. With the growing market, it's important to guarantee that everyone is playing by the same rules and that the consumer is getting what they are promised on labels.

We here at the Whisky Ardvark thought it might be interesting to look at the rules of combat that are in effect at the present moment around the world in an easy-to-understand format. But before we can start, let's look at where whisky first came from, what it was, how it evolved, and what the benchmark dates of regulations were that helped shape the whisky we know today.

Country-Specific Regulations Included in This Article

Let's start with the age-old question of which came first - Irish or Scottish Whisky. Oh Boy...


Irish VS Scottish Whisky

This has been a never-ending battle between the Irish and the Scots - who came up with whisky first? Talking to either countryman, they are convinced that it was them, but all we can do is look at the recorded facts.

Like many other spirits, whisky distillation was an art form of monks who also served as healers. Through the invention of distilling wine in the 1300s, monks were introduced into the new world of 'water of life' - a medication to aid many aches. It was used to treat all sorts of illnesses, including smallpox and colic. This unaged spirit was drunk by itself or infused with aromatic herbs.

The Annals of Clonmacnoise

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The first mention of whiskey in its infancy form of uisce beatha (translated from Latin Aqua Vitae meaning 'water of life' to Old Irish) can be dated back to 1408, and a chronicle called Annals of Clonmacnoise. It was translated into English in 1627 by Conall Mag Eochagáin and contained history, stories, and tales from the birth of the man to 1408, according to Irish folklore. The Old Bushmills distillery, established in 1608, is still believed to be the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.

In Scotland, in 1494, James IV of Scotland sent the Exchequer Rolls to Friar John Cor ordering around 500 bottles to be produced for him to enjoy. When Henry VIII of England took over, he dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, sending the monks out into the public, taking their knowledge of distillation with them.

Exchequer Rolls - See Fourth Last Row, Last Word "Aquavitae"

Image by Claxton's Spirits - Exchequer Rolls - See Fourth Last Row, Last Word "Aquavitae"

Scotland was the first to record the taxation of whisky in 1556, and in 1725, the industry was forced underground by heavy taxes. Many whisky makers became bootleggers making moonshine wherever they could, without getting caught. This included churches, homes, and dark forests in the moonlight (hence 'moonshine').

The oldest Scottish whisky distillery to this day is Glenturret, established in 1775, although Glenturret itself dates its whisky-making back to 1763. The Ferintosh distillery was one of the oldest known whisky distilleries in the world, running from 1688 to 1785. Some Scottish whisky distilleries stated an establishing year after 1823 when the Excise Act acquired distilleries to have a license to distil whisky, although many of them had started illicit distilling before the Act became law.

The early whiskies weren't aged in barrels. Barrels were only used for storage, and barley distilled spirits were enjoyed straight from the still at a high ABV. It wasn't until the early 1800s that the idea of ageing whisky for flavour was introduced. Furthermore, single malts were an unfamiliar concept that gained popularity only at the end of the 1900s. Before the rise of single malts, most whiskies were blended by shops owned by families that later became some of the biggest names in the industry. Branding was also first introduced in spirit shops carrying names like Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky (later Johnnie Walker) and The Royal Glen Dee (later Chivas Regal). To this day, around 95% of whisky distillery production goes into blends.

In this article, we will be getting close and personal with Scottish whisky since its regulations are most widespread.

P.S. Irish Whiskey came first XD

Scottish whisky timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



The Scotch whisky regulations 2009 by SWA visual aid

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

Please find the full detailed Scotch Whisky Technical File here on the official SWA website.

The current Scotch Whisky Association rules and regulations were drafted in 2009 and are enforced by HMRC in the UK. Although additions, including clarifications, are added quite often, the latest additions to the regulations were added in 2019 to clarify rules regarding cask finished, which can also be used for the full maturation of whisky.

In 1912, the first governing body of spirits within the UK was formed - The Wine And Spirit Brand Association, which in 1942 was renamed the Scotch Whisky Association. Since 1915, it has been stated that to be called Scotch Whisky, the spirit has to be aged no less than 3 years, malt or grain - replacing the old early 1900s limit of 2 years. The new regulations were the result of one David Lloyd George who was a concerned teetotal who in 1916 became the Prime Minister of England.

Scotch whisky association logo

Over the years, multiple articles of regulation have been added to the list, but the most important years for redrafting happened in 1988 and 2009. With the ever-changing industry, the SWA quickly reacts to producers who try to test the limits. The only way to know where the SWA draws the line is to test the waters. One of our favourite border-testers is John Glaser from Compass Box, who has constantly been testing the rules of cask-aging and has advocated for transparency throughout the industry - especially when it comes to blended whiskies.

For a long period, the industry relied on the integrity of the whisky producers, and most criteria were agreed on and practised without having to make them into rules. Maybe that's why it wasn't until 1988 that the 40% ABV limit was set as a written regulation. They say that 'when the cat's away the mice will play' and that's why a governing body AKA the Cat is needed - if the mice are allowed to set their own rules, the Scotch whisky we know and love today might be something completely different.

From 2019, ageing whisky in casks that have previously been used to mature spirits (beer/wine) that are traditionally aged in casks was permitted. This paved the way for the introduction of tequila, mezcal, calvados, and shochu casks, just to name a few. The SWA later clarified that gin casks were not allowed even though some gins go through cask ageing. Also, cider casks were not allowed - possibly inspired by the Glen Moray release of Cider Cask Finish launched in 2018 for the UK market.

whisky glass inside a barrel

Image by veViski

Scotland is one of the only countries in the world to have Regional recognition for whisky. The main 3 are the Highlands, the Lowlands, and Speyside. 2 local classifications have been awarded to the Isle of Islay and Campbeltown. Even though some like to count The Islands as one of the regions, they are not recognised by the SWA as a stand-alone region. Some regions can have a signature style of whisky - for example, peated - but no regional rules are set for any specific style. You can make any type of whisky in any of the regions.

If you're wondering why so many other countries have adopted the Scotch Whisky rules for their whisky, the answer is quite simple. With the expansion of the British Empire around the world, from Australia to the US, Scottish whisky became a common export that people across the globe became custom to. Another factor concerning, for example, Japan is that the first whisky distillers learned the art of distillation in Scotland before returning home with their newly acquired knowledge.


Let's take a look at the main characteristic regulations of 3 Scotch Whiskies by style:

Single Malt

- Has to be made in 1 distillery from 100% malted barley

- Has to be aged for no less than 3 years in oak casks

- Has to be distilled by using copper pot stills to no more than 94.8% ABV

- Has to be bottled in Scotland with a minimum of 40% ABV

- The age statement has to state the youngest whisky in the bottle

- Only the addition of E150 caramel colour and water is allowed

Please note that even though many producers put their whisky into casks at 63.5% ABV, there is no regulation stating an exact ABV by the SWA.

Example of Scottish single malt whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Grain Whisky

- Has to be made using real cereal grains, including barley, wheat, rye, and corn - that are classified as grasses (broadleaf plants that can be grounded into flour are not allowed)

- Has to be distilled to no more than 94.8% ABV

- Usually distilled by using a column still (but it's not required by law)*

- Has to be aged for at least 3 years in oak casks

*Grain whisky is usually distilled by using a column, aka continuous aka Coffey still, because it's more cost-effective and large quantities can be produced at a time.

Exmaples of Scottish grain whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Blended Whisky

- Has to be done by blending whiskies from at least 2 different distilleries

- Blended Whisky has to be blended by using one or more single malts and one or more grain whiskies

- Blended Malt must only contain single malts from at least 2 different distilleries

- The age statement has to state the youngest whisky in the bottle

- Has to be bottled at no less than 40% ABV

- Only the addition of E150 caramel colour and water is allowed

By the time whiskies reach blenders, they have met the required criteria to be classified as whiskies at the point of production. Some producers choose to 'marry' the whiskies in casks for an extra period for a wholesome result. Please note that although some exceptions are granted by the SWA and HMRC, blended whiskies become Blended Scotch Whiskies only after they are bottled in Scotland with all the criteria met.

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



Irish Whiskey Association guidelines 1980 Irish whiskey act

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

Irish Whiskey has to meet the criteria set by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Irish Whiskey Technical File. The link will take you to the full detailed version set by the Food Industry Development Division Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in October 2014.

The Irish whiskey industry follows guidelines set in the 1980 Irish Whiskey Act - Act of the Oireachtas No. 33 of 1980 replaced the previous regulations set in 1950. Because Irish Whiskey falls under the regulatory umbrella of the food industry in Ireland as a spirit drink, many additions, especially in labelling, have been revised over the years - the newest version was in 2014. Legally, the Irish Whiskey, Uisce Beatha Eireannach, and Irish Whisky are the terms for labelling the whiskey made in Ireland.

The Irish Whiskey Association IWA works in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture to ensure the heritage and tradition of Irish Whiskey. In 2021, the IWA requested a GI (geographical indication) recheck from the DoA responsible for the island nations' agriculture.

Irish whiskey association logo

Irish whiskies were extremely popular in the 19th century, with a growing number of distilleries being established to meet the demand. Irish whiskey was the most popular drink at the time. The growth saw the production going from 40 distilleries in 1823 to 86 in 1840. Unfortunately by the time, the 20th century came along the whiskey industry in Ireland was hit by increased excise, a decline in export due to the US prohibition, and the World Wars. Only 2 distilleries survived into the 1970s, but slowly, the industry started to regain its strength - although there's still a lot of work to be done to hit the high popularity Irish Whiskey had back in the 1800s.

Many people wonder about the spelling of Irish Whiskey, including an 'e'. Some call it 'the American spelling' comparable to the different spelling of the word 'flavor vs. flavour'. It might be the American spelling but only because between 1820 and 1930, it is estimated that around 4.5 million Irish people migrated to the US (taking their whiskey with them).

Migrants arriving in New York on a boat

Image by The Bowery Boys

Irish Blended whiskies must include at least 2 of the 3 types of Irish Whiskeys

All whiskey labelled as Irish Whiskey must meet the criteria:

- Has to be aged at least 3 years in wooden casks, such as oak, with a maximum size of 700 litres

- Has to be distilled to no more than 94.8% ABV

- Bottled at no less than 40% ABV

- Has to be fully produced in Ireland, including maturation but not bottling

- Has to be made by using cereal grains

- Only water and caramel colour E150 can be added to the final product


Let's take a look at the main characteristic regulations of 3 Irish Whiskies by style:

Irish Pot Still Whiskey

- Has to be distilled by using a copper pot still

- Both malted and unmalted barley can be used together with other unmalted cereal grains

- The mash must contain at least 30% of malted barley and at least 30% unmalted barley

- To be called a Single Pot Still Whiskey, the spirit has to be distilled in one distillery only

Examples of Irish pot still whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Irish Single Malt

- Has to be made from 100% malted barley in one distillery

- Has to be distilled by using a copper pot still

Examples of Irish single malt whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Irish Grain Whiskey

- Can use whole unmalted cereal in production

- Must not have a malted barley content exceeding 30%

- Must be distilled in a column still

- Has to be put in casks between 63% and 70% ABV

Examples of Irish grain whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



Image by The Whisky Ardvark

The American whiskey industry is overseen, including production and labelling, under Title 27 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. The labelling of American-made spirits is controlled by the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which was formed in 2002. Please find the technical files for TTB here.

Whiskey production in the US dates back to the 1640s. The first whiskies were distilled by farmers from the grain they were conveniently already growing. At the time the whiskey was unaged 'moonshine' which was rough around the edges. Even after the first tax on whiskey was set After the Revolutionary War in 1791, only uncharred barrels were used for transport. In around 1826, the first charred barrels entered US whiskey production - influenced by the French brandy maturation techniques.

With the growing demand for aged whiskey, the industry soon became flooded with fakers who were adding colourings and flavour to their natural grain spirit and selling it as the 'real thing'. This inspired Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. from Old Taylor Bourbon to help create and pass the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897, which became a sign of quality.

Bottled-in-Bond whiskey label

Image by Chuck Cowdery

The new law outlined the regulations of Bottled-in-Bond that are still in use today, but it also declared that the distiller would only pay tax at the time the whiskey was released from the government-controlled warehouse after 4 years. This new law guaranteed that in case of a fire or other damage to the warehouse, the distiller wouldn't have to pay tax on the product lost.

In 1909, the word 'whiskey' was recognised as a product in the United States. It followed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which set the rules for labelling consumables. But why did it take 3 years to apply it to whiskey? Well, it's very hard to mislabel something that doesn't have a legal definition. The new definition outlined that "straight" should only be applied to whiskey made from 100% aged grain spirit. If unaged grain distillate was added to the mix, it should be labelled as 'blended'.

US Prohibition

Image by BBC

The US whiskey industry was about to be hit by a meteor that would take them back to square one. In 1920 the 18th Amendment AKA The Volstead Act AKA the prohibition made sure the illegal trade and poor-quality whiskey were thriving. Properly produced whiskey was either smuggled or prescribed by doctors. Only 6 whiskey distilleries were given a license to distil spirits for medicinal purposes, including Stitzel-Weller and Brown-Forman. Need not say the prescriptions were in high demand.

After the prohibition ended in 1933, it was time to recalculate and get back on track to revive the American whiskey industry - enter the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935. Under the new law, straight whiskey had to be aged in charred new oak casks, and the definition of bourbon and rye whiskey was specified. Even though many additions and specifications have been added to the law since then, the backbone of the 1935 Act is still in use today.

Bourbon was only recognised as a US distinctive product in 1964 by the US Congress. (This is a nice little snippet of information to be used in your next whiskey quiz.)

Please note that many countries around the world have their definitions of what can be labelled as American whiskey suitable for their markets. For example, the European Union doesn't recognise spirits aged less than 3 years as whiskey and won't be available to purchase.



- Has to be made in the United States of America or its territories

- Has to be aged in charred virgin oak casks

- The mash has to contain at least 51% corn

- Distilled to no more than 80% ABV

- Has to be laid into casks at no more than 62.5% ABV

- Has to be bottled at no less than 40% ABV

- Straight Bourbon has to be aged for at least 2 years

- Bottled-in-Bond bourbon has to be distilled in one distillery during one distilling season, aged for at least 4 years, and bottled at no less than 50% ABV

- No added flavour or colouring

- Colouring and flavouring are only allowed in Bourbons labelled as Blended

- Bourbon aged less than 4 years has to display the duration of maturation on its label

- The age statement has to display the youngest whisky in the bottle

Bourbon doesn't have a minimum ageing requirement. Technically, the new make spirit could be run through a cask and be called bourbon. The youngest Bourbons on the market have only been aged for 3 months. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, even though it's mostly linked to the State of Kentucky.

Examples of Bourbon whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee Whiskey shares most of its regulatory requirements with Bourbon. But in addition or instead of:

- Tennessee Whiskey can only be made in the State of Tennessee

- Since 2013, Tennessee Whiskey has to be made by using the Lincoln County Process, AKA Charcoal Filtration, before being laid in barrels to age (all except Benjamin Prichard's)

- Since 2014, Tennessee Whiskey could be aged in pre-used barrels

Please note that not all whiskey made in Tennessee fulfils the legal requirements to be called Tennessee Whiskey. Tennessee is also one of the 3 states in America that still prohibits the selling of alcohol to adults to some degree. Some of the counties in Tennessee are 'dry', and businesses are not allowed to give free samples - including distilleries.

Examples of Tennessee whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Rye Whiskey

- The mash has to contain at least 51% rye grain

- To be called "Straight", the rye whiskey has to be aged at least 2 years and can not be blended with other whiskies

- Distilled to no more than 80% ABV

- Has to be laid into casks at no more than 62.5% ABV

- Has to be aged in charred virgin oak barrels

- Has to be bottled at no less than 40% ABV

- Rye Malt Whiskey has to be made by using at least 51% malted rye

Other types of American Grain Whiskies include Wheat Whisky, made with a mash bill consisting of at least 51% wheat, and corn whiskey, which is usually unaged. Corn whiskey mash must have a corn content of at least 80%, and if aged, it can be done using uncharred previously used barrels.

Examples of American rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


American Malt Whiskey

Unlike most malt whisky, American Malt Whisky doesn't have to be made by using only 100% malted barley. It shares the same ABV regulations as many other American whiskies.

- The mash has to contain at least 51% malted barley

- To be called and labelled as a Single Malt, the mash has to be made from 100% malted barley

- Has to be aged at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels to be called Straight Malt Whisky with no added colouring or flavourings

- Can be blended with other whiskies to make Blended Malt Whisky but can be called as such only if the malted barley content exceeds 51%


American Single Malt Whisky

In July 2022, the TTB announced their proposed guidelines for American Single Malt whisky. These new rules are not yet recognised by law. Click here for further details by TTB or here for the National Archive's Federal Registry technical file.

- Has to be made by using 100% malted barley

- Has to be mashed, distilled, and aged in the United States

- Has to be made in one distillery in the United States

- Aged in oak barrels not exceeding 700 litres

- Distilled to no more than 80% ABV

- Bottled at no less than 40% ABV

- No neutral spirits allowed. Colouring, flavouring, and blending elements are permitted

Examples of American malt and American single malt whiskies

Image by Th

e Whisky Ardvark



Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association Guidelines come to effect on 31.03.2024

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

Please click here to find the full and detailed JSLMA technical file on Japanese whisky.

Even though the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association was established in 1953, it wasn't until 2021 that the regulatory body tackled the widespread mislabelling of Japanese whisky products by introducing guidelines for legitimacy. The JSLMA is formed by 82 prominent Japanese spirit producers around the spectrum.

Since the birth of the Japanese whisky industry in the 1930s, the practice has been closely linked to Scottish whisky. Masataka Taketsuru, who's credited with being the first Japanese whisky distiller, was sent to Scotland to find out how to produce whisky by Scottish standards and tradition. With the knowledge gained abroad, he took his notes and mindset to help create a thriving industry.

For years, many whisky 'producers' joined the market with Suntory and Nikka, but many of them were bottling whisky imported from Scotland or taking the leap of faith by moving from shochu production into producing rice whisky for the domestic market.

With the growing demand for Japanese whisky in the late 2010s, the industry started attracting people willing to cut corners to make a profit. In recent years, bottles stating just the phrase 'Product of Japan' have appeared on the market. On many occasions, these products have barely stepped onto Japanese soil. Some producers have been buying their whisky in bulk from abroad, and even spirits distilled from rice, have been passed on as whisky. It was time to set some rules to save the quality of the industry.

Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association logo

The new regulations were announced in February 2021, with action starting on the 1st of April 2021. The association has given 3 years for Japanese producers to straighten their act if applicable. The deadline for the new rules is the 31st of March, 2024. The new rules dictate that to be called and labelled Japanese Whisky, the spirit must be aged at least 3 years in wooden barrels and that all production, from fermentation to bottling, has to be done in Japan, just to name a few. Many of the regulations have been unwritten rules of practice for whisky makers for years, but with new distillers joining the ranks these rules needed to be legally clarified.

If you're interested in the Japanese whisky production, history, and current distilleries (operational in June 2022) please find our articles Part 1 & Part 2 here.

Examples of Japanese whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



It might be hard to imagine, but up until now, there haven't been rules and regulations to outline the whisky production in England separate from Scotland. The English Whisky Guild EWG was founded in May 2022 with 15 member distilleries. There are now 40 active whisky-producing facilities in England. The longest-running distillery, the St. Georges distillery, was founded in 2006.

English whisky quid members 2022

Image by EWG

Until now, the English whisky-makers have been following the definitions of Scotch whisky but were left unprotected after Brexit. The EU has its regulations about whisky, and to some extent was the safe haven for the English whisky industry to rely on. The exit of Great Britain in 2020 prompted the need for its own regulatory body.

The EWG has applied for Geographical Indication AKA GI from the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to recognise English Whisky in its own right. Hopefully, we will soon see the EWG publishing 'an English Whisky Rule Book'. Please find the official EWG website here for updates and more information.

Examples of English whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The EU

The European Parliament guidelines for whisky 2019

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

The current rules and regulations on whisky in the EU are governed by The European Parliament under the 2019/787 law. The EU law regulates bottling, labelling, and exportation requirements for spirit drinks, which include whisky. Even though the EU law dictates the rules - and grants GIs - the whisky-specific regulations are relatively lax. Some countries inside the EU have their own laws regulating their whisky industry (often relying on the Scotch whisky production guidelines), but all must at least fulfil the requirements set by the EU.

Please see the full technical file here. The regulations on whisky and whiskey can be found on page 31.



The Australian distillers association whisky guidelines

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

The Australian whisky industry is advocated by the Australian Distillers Association ADA in Sydney and overseen by the Australian Taxation Office ATO. The ADA was established in 2004 to fight for the rights of Australia's whisky industry.

Please find the ATO technical file on Australian whisky here.

The early settlers were thought to have started distilling soon after their arrival and migration (and yes, some of them were banished by the Crown) from England. The first Australian whisky distillery, Sorell distillery in Hobart, was established by Thomas Haigh Midwood in 1822. Soon after, another 15 distilleries were established in Tasmania (at the time known as Van Diemen's Land) before Governor John Franklin banned distilling on the island in 1838. Tasmania wouldn't see any whisky produced until the 1990s.

Mainland Australia wasn't affected by the ban, and the first distillery, the Sydney distillery (later known as Glenmore), had been established in 1824. The distillery made rum and gin, but it's unknown if they distilled whisky on the premises as well.

The first major legislation to try and control illegal distilling came in the form of the Victorian Distillation Act in 1862, but it wasn't until the 1901 Distillation Act that a minimum still size of 2700 litres was set. This new act wiped out small distilleries. Only big players who had the money and the space were left running the scene. With the addition of the 1906 Spirits Act, the definition of Australian whisky was set.

Australian whisky regulations file

Image by OZ Whisky Reviews - Spirits Act 1906

For a long time, the Australian whisky industry was run by big companies located in the UK. Gilbey’s of London and the Distillers Company of Edinburgh (later Diageo) had acquired the biggest distilleries on land. Both were only making low-quality whisky for the domestic Australian market due to financial gain, which affected the reputation of Australian whisky from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The 1901 Distillation Act resurfaced in the late 80s in the mind of one Bill Lark. With some help from some regulatory friends, he managed to overturn the minimum still size and set out his Lark distillery in 1992 in Tasmania. The new age of Australian whisky had begun. By the beginning of the 2020s, there were around 50 working distilleries around Australia, 22 of them in Tasmania alone.

For more information about the fascinating history of Australian whisky, please click here. The link will take you to the ADA official website.

Although Australian whisky distilleries use the Scotch whisky industry rules to some extent, there are no regulations about specific wood used for casks. Also, Australian whisky has to be aged for only 2 years - a remnant of the old whisky rules which Scottish whisky had in the early 1900s.

Since 2021, New Zealand has also introduced the two-year minimum for its whiskies.

Examples of Australian whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



Government of Canada whisky quidelines Excise act 1985

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

Canada is famously lax with its regulations when it comes to whisky. Canadian whisky is regulated under the Government of Canada Food and Drug Regulations, which states that Canadian whisky has to be aged in small wood for no less than 3 years. It also has to be distilled and aged in Canada. Since only one law regulates Canadian whisky, all types of whiskies fall under the same set of rules.

Please find the Government of Canada whisky technical file here.

Most Canadian whiskies are blends and made by using corn as their main grain, but they often also have a small percentage of rye in the mash. Barley and wheat are not that common but can still be used. Unlike many other countries, Canada allows caramel and flavourings to be added to its whiskies, although it still has to 'possess the aroma, taste, and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky'.

The first distillers of whisky came to Canada from America and Europe as immigrants. With the knowledge of distilling, farmers used their surplus, close to spoilage, wheat to distilling their whiskies that were sold in markets unaged. The first commercial whisky distiller was John Molson, who set up a single pot still operation in 1801 in Montreal. In 1890, Canada became the first country to regulate the minimum aging of whiskies with a 2-year minimum.

The Canadian whisky industry has benefitted from other countries' misfortunes over the years. During the Napoleonic Wars, when French brandy and wine sales to England were banned, Canada expanded their export efforts. Most famously, Canadians also benefitted from the US Prohibition. Not only because it created the need for smuggling whisky but because American distilleries that were forced to close down, sold their equipment to those hoping to start their own distilling operations in Canada.

Canadian Prohibition raid

Image by The Canadian Encyclopedia

Canada had their Prohibition from 1916 to generally the 1920s (1919-1948). An optional prohibition was established in 1878 to allow local bans on the sale of alcohol. The first region to apply the ban was Prince Edward Island in 1901, and they were also the last to uphold it until 1948.

Famous Canadian whiskies today include

Canadian Club - Founded in 1858 - Owned by Beam Suntory since 2011

Forty Creek - Founded in 1972 - Owned by Campari since 2014

Black Velvet - Introduced in 1946 - Owned by Heaven Hill since 2019

Crown Royal - Introduced in 1939 - Owned by Diageo since 2000

Examples of Canadian whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Easy to Read Whisky Regulation Table by Country

Easy to read whisky regulation by country table

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

Take me back to the beginning - I changed me mind!

Thank you for reading!


661 views2 comments


Creig P. Sherburne
Creig P. Sherburne
Aug 26, 2022

My goodness, what a gloriously good article! I would love to see the addition of Canadian whisky to the list. What a gloriously comprehensive article!

Miona Madsen
Miona Madsen
Aug 28, 2022
Replying to

Thank you! We'll look into adding Canadian whisky to the list as well 👍🏻

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