When it comes to spirits, people are having difficulty spotting the differences between Scotch, bourbon, whiskey, and brandy. In fact, we’ve been receiving many requests to compare four of the most famous liquors worldwide.
We hear you, so here’s our take on bourbon vs Scotch vs whiskey vs brandy. Which spirit suits you better? Read on and find out!
Brandy, Bourbon, Scotch, & Whiskey Comparison
Bourbon, brandy, Scotch, and whiskey are all in the same family of liquors. Yes, the liquors are related because they belong to the family of grain drinks. What’s more amazing is that brandy and Cognac are made from fermented grapes (Ugni Blanc) until they become wine.
While bourbon, brandy, Scotch, and whiskey have a fair share of similarities, they also have differences from each other. People get confused about these facts: All bourbons are whiskey, but whiskeys are not always bourbons. All Scotches are whiskey, but whiskeys are not always Scotch. Lastly, all Cognacs are brandy, but brandy is not always Cognac. So, what’s the deal?
The maturation process is an important thing for any distilled liquor. The spirit must be aged in oak barrels for three years when it comes to whiskeys. Bourbons should be aged for at least two years in new charred American oak barrels.
On the other hand, Scotch must be matured in wooden casks for at least three years, while brandies that are 90% pot-distilled should be aged for three years in French oak barrels.
The UK highly regulates the production of Scotch that it must be produced in Scotland, distilled from grain mash bills, and fermented by adding yeast . Bourbon is distilled twice to boost the alcohol content of the liquor and to remove impurities from fermented grain mash. It can be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, or any part of the US as long as it passes the bourbon standards.
Whiskey is either double distilled or triple distilled using copper pot stills . Liquors become purer and lighter because of the distillation process, giving higher alcohol content. On the other hand, brandy undergoes double distillation before its aging process in wooden barrels.
The base ingredients of whiskey, brandy, bourbon, and Scotch give distinct taste and profile to each distilled spirit. Bourbon is made from a grain mash bill with at least 51% corn, while whiskey is made from malted barley or other grains.
On the contrary, Scotch is made from a mash of cereal grains and malted barley, and brandy is made from wine, and the wine is commonly made from grapes grown in Southwestern France or other fermented fruit.
Flavor Notes & Aroma
Disclaimer: There are endless flavors and aromas in each liquor type, but for comparison purposes, we only included some flavors to mention in this section.
Bourbon whiskey has a sweeter flavor than other whiskeys, and it has notes of caramel, oak, and vanilla. The four major categories of bourbon flavor notes are as follows: nutmeg forward, cinnamon forward, caramel forward, and grain forward. Brandy has a subtly sweet taste, but because of new oak casks, it has flavor notes of French oak.
Compared to bourbon, Scotch whiskey has a sharp and distinct flavor. It is smoother, buttery, spicy, and malty with oak, dark chocolate, and peaty notes. On the other side, whiskey is salty, smoky, malty, and has a deep complexity.
Bourbon whiskey is bottled at 40% – 50% alcohol by volume (ABV) or 80 to 100 proof, and to achieve it, it has to undergo distillation twice. Scotch maintains 40% – 43% alcohol by volume (ABV), but you can find scotch whiskies up to 57% ABV. Based on UK Law, it should not be lower than 40%. But how many calories are in a Scotch?
Not all types of whiskey are the same, but the alcohol content to be called whiskey should be in the range of 40% – 68% alcohol by volume. On the other hand, brandy should meet the 35% – 60% alcohol content requirements to be considered one.
Requirements For Labeling
When it comes to bourbon, it should be 51% corn, distilled with a maximum of 80%, and barrelled at a maximum of 62.5 %. It should also be matured in new charred oak barrels. Scotch must be distilled in Scotland, and its mash bill should contain malted barley and other grains.
Not all whiskey is the same regarding labeling requirements, which applies to types of whiskey like rye whiskey, Irish whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, and corn whiskey. Aside from specific mash bills, wye whiskey should be aged for a minimum of 2 years, while Tennessee whiskey must undergo Lincoln County Process (sugar maple charcoal).
Brandy should be made from distilled fermented grapes (fruit wine) or other fruits. It should undergo twice distillation and be stored in charred oak barrels to be good for the taste buds.
The price of each spirit depends on the base ingredients, origin, production process, and maturity, but of all the four spirits, Scotch is more expensive than bourbon.
On the other hand, brandy is cheaper than whiskey (Irish whiskey, rye whiskey, and blended whiskey). The grape varieties, distilled wine, and production costs for spirits make it more expensive than other alcohols.
Read: Rye vs Bourbon
Are There Similarities?
Bourbon & Brandy
Bourbon and brandy are two different distilled liquors that work great when served as cocktails. You may want to try out different straight bourbon and brandies cocktail recipes.
Since brandy is a white wine aged in American charred oak barrels, it gives a distinct brown color, almost the same as bourbon. In addition, bourbon and brandies have almost the same flavor notes.
Scotch & Whiskey
Not all whiskey is considered Scotch, but Scotch is considered a whisky (but without e) because they share the same base ingredients – malted grains. While there are certain restrictions to consider Scotch a Scotch whisky, both Scotch and whiskey use grains like barley, malted rye, and wheat.
In addition, both whiskey and Scotch are best consumed neat because of their exceptional taste and floral notes. Also, how do you order whiskey at a pub?
Is Bourbon Considered Brandy?
No, bourbon is not considered a brandy but a type of whiskey. Brandy is made from fermented wine (usually red wine), while bourbon is made from distilled fermented grain mash. It may have similarities in colors and taste; you cannot consider bourbon a brandy and vice versa.
According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an “authentic” bourbon must be produced in the United States, while brandy does not have a restriction on its production location.
In addition, whiskey bourbon is more expensive than brandy because it needs to be aged for at least two years.
Is Scotch The Same As Whiskey?
Yes, Scotch is the same as whiskey. However, it should be made in Scotland only. Scotch is made from the base ingredients of whiskey, but unlike whiskey, Scotch has its own regulations to be considered one.
There are different types of Scotch whisky depending on its mash, but single malt Scotch and blended Scotch are the two most famous types of whiskey made from the same distillery.
Can you mix brandy and whiskey together?
Yes, you can mix brandy and whiskey together. Combining these alcoholic beverages, you can make a Saratoga by adding equal parts of whiskey (bourbon, too) and brandy and sweet vermouth, ice, and bitters to blend. It seems like you are drinking a mix of Manhattan and Metropolitan drinks.
Is brandy smoother than whiskey?
Yes, brandy is smoother than whiskey because brandy is made from fermented fruits (and wine), while whiskey is made from fermented grains. It is smoother to drink, on a sweeter side, and does not burn, unlike whiskey.
Knowing the difference between whiskey, brandy, bourbon, and Scotch is important because it hints at what’s inside the bottle and if it’s worth the price tag.
From main ingredients, maturation, production process to price point, the four spirits are related but still different from each other.
Do you have your favorite types of whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, or brandy? Comment down below!
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds!