Whisk(e)y is a major global distilled spirit beverage. Whiskies are produced from cereal starches that are saccharified, fermented and distilled prior to spirit maturation. The strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae employed in whisky fermentations is crucially important not only in terms of ethanol yields, but also for production of minor yeast metabolites which collectively contribute to development of spirit flavour and aroma characteristics. Distillers must therefore pay very careful attention to the strain of yeast exploited to ensure consistency of fermentation performance and spirit congener profiles. In the Scotch whisky industry, initiatives to address sustainability issues facing the industry (for example, reduced energy and water usage) have resulted in a growing awareness regarding criteria for selecting new distilling yeasts with improved efficiency. For example, there is now a desire for Scotch whisky distilling yeasts to perform under more challenging conditions such as high gravity wort fermentations. This article highlights the important roles of S. cerevisiae strains in whisky production (with particular emphasis on Scotch) and describes key fermentation performance attributes sought in distiller’s yeast, such as high alcohol yields, stress tolerance and desirable congener profiles. We hope that the information herein will be useful for whisky producers and yeast suppliers in selecting new distilling strains of S. cerevisiae, and for the scientific community to stimulate further research in this area.