The U.S government defines whisky (note, the foreign spelling) * as 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 whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).
Spirits that are 190 proof and above are considered a grain neutral spirit (what vodka is before being watered down for bottling). Spirits below 80 proof (might as well be a wine cooler cause it’s not the good stuff!) are generally flavored spirits, liqueurs, or beer.
Simple Translation: Whiskey must be made of grain, not too strong, not too weak, and needs to taste like whisky.
Tastes like whisky?
Thank you, Uncle Sam, for once again drinking on the job.
This subjective “definition” leaves much room for interpretation. So much so the government goes on to define 41different types of whiskey.
If you ever want to stump your drinking compadres, ask them to name all 41 different types of whiskey. I suggest wagering a whiskey of your choosing beforehand…free drink city!
*Class and Type Classification. (2007, April) Retrieved from https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/bam/chapter4.pdf.