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Scotch vs Bourbon: Full Comparison (2024 Updated)

Scotch vs Bourbon

Last Updated on March 27, 2024 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

Scotch & Bourbon

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.

Read: Bourbon vs Scotch vs Brandy vs Whiskey

Main Differences

Main Differences

Raw Materials

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.

Aging Process

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.

But to have the “Straight Bourbon” label on the bottle, the spirit must undergo at least two years of aging in new charred oak barrels. But what’s a toasted barrel bourbon?

Production Process

Scotch Whiskey Production Process

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

Originating Region

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 [1].

Read: Popular Single Malt Scotch Whiskies Under $100


A glass of scotch whiskey

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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ABV Requirements

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

scotch whiskey cocktail

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.


bourbon whiskey cocktail

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. 

Read: Buchanan Two Souls Scotch Review

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

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

Which is better, bourbon or Scotch?

The preference between bourbon and Scotch is subjective and depends on individual taste. Bourbon, a type of American whiskey, is known for its sweet and robust flavor profile, often with notes of caramel and vanilla. Scotch, on the other hand, hailing from Scotland, offers diverse styles, including peaty and smoky expressions. Whether one is “better” than the other is a matter of personal preference.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not classified as a bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey, which undergoes an additional charcoal filtering process known as the Lincoln County Process. While Tennessee whiskey shares similarities with bourbon, such as being made primarily from corn, the distinct filtering process sets it apart.

How is Scotch different from whiskey?

Scotch is a type of whiskey, specifically whiskey made in Scotland. The key differences between Scotch and other whiskeys lie in factors such as geographic origin, production methods, and ingredients. Scotch is often known for its diverse styles, including Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Malt, Blended Grain, and Blended Scotch Whisky.

What is the difference in whiskey and bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey, and the main differences lie in the production regulations. To be labeled as bourbon, the whiskey must meet specific criteria, including being made in the United States, containing at least 51% corn in the mash bill, and aging in new charred oak barrels. While all bourbons are whiskey, not all whiskeys are bourbon, as whiskey encompasses various styles, including Scotch, Irish whiskey, and more.

Is bourbon the poor man’s Scotch?

No, the notion of bourbon being the “poor man’s Scotch” is a misconception. Both bourbon and Scotch are distinct types of whiskey with unique characteristics. Bourbon is an American whiskey known for its sweetness and robust flavor, while Scotch is a whiskey from Scotland, featuring diverse styles, including peaty and smoky expressions. The preference between the two is subjective and not related to financial status.

Why is Jack Daniel’s not a bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s is not classified as a bourbon due to its production process. While it shares similarities with bourbon, such as being made primarily from corn, Jack Daniel’s undergoes an additional step called the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging. This process, unique to Tennessee whiskey, sets it apart from the strict criteria for bourbon.

Is Johnnie Walker a bourbon?

No, Johnnie Walker is not a bourbon. Johnnie Walker is a brand of Scotch whisky, specifically a blended Scotch whisky. Scotch must be produced in Scotland and follows specific regulations, including aging in oak barrels for a minimum period. Bourbon, on the other hand, is a type of American whiskey with distinct production criteria, including being made in the United States and containing at least 51% corn in the mash bill.

Why is it called bourbon?

Bourbon is named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, where it is believed to have originated. The whiskey’s exact origins are debated, but the name became associated with the area’s whiskey production. Today, to be labeled as bourbon, the whiskey must meet specific criteria, including being made in the United States, containing at least 51% corn in the mash bill, and aging in new charred oak barrels.

Is Jim Beam a bourbon?

Yes, Jim Beam is a brand of bourbon. Jim Beam Bourbon is a well-known American whiskey produced in Kentucky. It adheres to the criteria set for bourbon, including being made in the United States, containing at least 51% corn in the mash bill, and aging in new charred oak barrels.

What is easier to drink, Scotch or bourbon?

The ease of drinking Scotch or bourbon is subjective and depends on individual taste preferences. Bourbon is often noted for its sweeter and more approachable flavor profile, which some may find smoother and easier to drink. However, preferences vary, and some individuals may find certain Scotch whiskies equally easy to enjoy.

Is Scotch or bourbon more expensive?

The cost of Scotch versus bourbon varies widely based on factors such as brand, age, and production methods. While both Scotch and bourbon offer expressions at different price points, some aged and premium Scotch whiskies are often associated with higher prices due to factors like longer maturation periods and production costs.

Why does bourbon taste better than Scotch?

The perception of one spirit tasting better than another, such as bourbon tasting better than Scotch, is highly subjective. Individual taste preferences play a significant role, and what one person finds appealing, another may not. Bourbon is often praised for its sweetness and robust flavor, while Scotch offers diverse styles, including peaty and smoky expressions. Preferences for one over the other are personal and vary widely among whiskey enthusiasts.

Final Verdict: Scotch Vs Bourbon

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.


  1. Dining Single Malt Whiskey Review
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