Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Are you stuck in your local liquor store trying to choose between Scotch and bourbon? This situation is not strange as both whiskey varieties look almost the same. However, they have completely different flavors and solid differences that even some seasoned enthusiasts are unaware of.
Read on as we unveil every difference between Scotch vs Bourbon.
Comparing Bourbon & Scotch
One big difference between Scotch and bourbon is their raw ingredients. Bourbon uses corn of not less than 51% on its mash bill, making it cheaper, while Scotch uses malted barley or malted grains. Both use charred oak containers for maturing, but they have different aging processes.
Bourbon has no minimum aging period compared to the minimum three years of Scotch, resulting in their flavor differences. Bourbon has a sweet taste and mellow flavor, while Scotch has a peaty flavor and spicy notes.
Scotch and bourbon differ in their base ingredients. There are two types of Scotch depending on the grain mixture produced using a single distillery. The Single Malt Scotch uses malted barley only, and the Single Grain whisky may contain malted or unmalted cereal grains.
Contrarily, the United States has strict guidelines for bourbon, requiring its mash bill to have at least 51% corn mash.
The aging process is another remarkable difference in comparing Bourbon vs Scotch. These two whiskey types have to follow the strict guidelines of their originating countries.
Scotch follows the UK regulation and must be aged at least three years or longer, while bourbon has no minimum aging period.
During the fermentation process, both Scotch whisky and bourbon take around three days to produce alcohol with the strength of 8% ABV. The process is similar to distilling beer, but bourbon uses sour mash to ensure consistency, unlike Scotch.
The distillation process of these two whiskeys is almost similar, too. Both went through distillations twice using copper pot stills, but different distilleries produced Scotch in a third pot still.
Read: How to Make Bourbon
Bourbon and Scotch whiskey follow strict guidelines from their originating countries to bear their names. Like rye whiskey, bourbon production must be within the United States, while the Scotch production and bottling processes must be in Scotland.
Despite using malted barley and the same production process, any whiskey type made outside of Scotland is a Single Malt Whisky and not Scotch .
Bourbon draws a sweeter taste from using a high percentage of corn, while its vanilla-like flavors come from the charred surface of oak casks, where it undergoes aging.
On the other hand, Scotch has a smoky profile with a signature peatiness and a spicy finish. Scotch’s smoke is an acquired taste from the peat burned in the barley malting process of its raw ingredients.
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The minimum bottling strength for Scotch by law is 40% ABV. But there is an established export bottling strength, like in South Africa, that requires a minimum of 43% ABV for a bottle of Scotch.
Although bourbon and Scotch have the same minimum bottling strength, the former must go through distillation at not more than 80% ABV. Bourbon will go through the aging process in new charred oak barrels at not more than 62.5% ABV.
Whiskey vs Whisky
Both word spellings are correct, but the distinction lies in their originating countries, like comparing Bourbon vs Scotch. Whisky refers to spirits made in Scotland, Japan, or Canada. However, American whiskey (bourbon) and Irish whiskey use the spelling with an e as their production took place in the United States and Ireland.
Scotch has five official variations. These Scotch variations are the Single Malt Scotch, Single Grain Scotch, Blended Malt Whisky, Blended Grain Whisky, and the Blended Scotch.
Meanwhile, bourbon has four types: traditional, high-rye bourbon, wheated, and Tennessee whiskey.
The grain prices make bourbon the cheaper alcoholic beverage than Scotch. Bourbon uses a high percentage of corn, a cheap grain in the United States, and it has no required aging period compared to Scotch.
In addition, a Single Malt Scotch requires perfect barley with low nitrogen and a good enzyme. This special requirement increases the rarity of the grains used for Scotch production, making it more expensive.
Is Scotch easier to drink than bourbon?
No, it is not easier to drink Scotch whisky than bourbon whiskey.
A good Scotch has a distinct flavor profile of smokiness and oaky flavors due to its exposure to peat smoke during production. But is there any difference between Scotch and whiskey?
Which is sweeter, Scotch or bourbon?
Bourbon whiskey is sweeter than Scotch whisky. Bourbon’s taste comes from using a high amount of corn and other grains. Learn how to make Scotch on the Rocks with a twist here.
After careful evaluation, our team concludes that bourbon is better based on its price and tasting profile. Both spirits, typically aged in a charred oak barrel, can have charred notes flavors. But since the aging process of Scotch is longer, it results in a spicy flavor compared to the sweet and mellow texture of bourbon.
Generally, bourbon is cheaper than Scotch ranging from $18 to $40, while a good Blended Scotch whisky is around $40.