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What is the Difference Between Scotch and Whiskey and Bourbon?

two bottles and three glasses of scotch whiskey

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Are you curious about the intriguing world of spirits? Wondering what sets scotch, whiskey, and bourbon apart?

Allow me to unravel the captivating differences between scotch vs whiskey vs bourbon as we delve into the unique characteristics that define each of these cherished libations.

Let’s embark on a flavorful journey as we explore what is the difference between scotch and whiskey, and bourbon and discover the diverse wonders they hold within a single sip.

Introduction

Scotch

Scotch whisky, commonly referred to as Scotch, is a type of whisky that is made in Scotland. It is known for its distinct flavors and rich history. Scotch is made primarily from malted barley and is matured in oak barrels for at least three years. [1]

It is strongly associated with Scottish culture and is celebrated worldwide for its quality and craftsmanship.

Whiskey

Whiskey, also spelled whisky, is a broad category of distilled spirits that originated in various countries, including Ireland, the United States, Canada, and others. It is typically made from grains like barley, corn, rye, or wheat.

The production process and flavor profiles can vary depending on the country of origin and specific regulations. Whiskey is popular for its diverse range of flavors and styles.

Bourbon

Bourbon is a certain type of whiskey that is primarily produced in the United States. To be legally described as bourbon, it must meet certain requirements, including being made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels.

Bourbon whiskey is known for its rich and sweet flavor profile, often with notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. It has become synonymous with American whiskey and is highly regarded worldwide.

a shot of scotch on the rocks

Production Process

Scotch

Ingredients used in Scotch production

Scotch is traditionally made from malted barley, water, and yeast. Some variations may also include other grains like wheat or rye. The quality of the barley, the water source, and the type of yeast used can all impact the final flavor of the Scotch.

Distillation process for Scotch

Scotch is distilled using pot stills or column stills. Pot stills are typically used for single malt Scotch whisky, while column stills are used for grain whiskies and blended Scotch. The distillation process involves heating the fermented mash to separate alcohol from other substances, resulting in a concentrated spirit.

Maturation process for Scotch

After distillation, Scotch is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. The aging process allows the spirit to develop complex flavors and aromas. The choice of oak barrels, such as those previously used for bourbon or sherry, can further influence the characteristics of the Scotch.

Whiskey

Ingredients used in whiskey production

Whiskey can be made from various grains, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. The specific grain combination and proportions used determine the style of whiskey. Each grain brings its own unique flavors and characteristics to the final product.

Distillation process for whiskey

The distillation process for whiskey is similar to that of Scotch. It involves heating the fermented mash to separate the alcohol, which is then collected and further refined through multiple distillation runs. The choice of stills, such as pot stills or column stills, can impact the final flavor profile of the whiskey.

Maturation process for whiskey

Whiskey is aged in oak barrels, much like Scotch. Depending on the sought flavor profile, the aging process can range from a few years to several decades. The type of oak barrels used, previous contents of the barrels, and environmental factors all contribute to the development of flavors and aromas in the whiskey.

Bourbon

Ingredients used in bourbon production

Bourbon must be made from a grain combination that is at least 51% corn. The remaining grains can include malted barley, rye, or wheat. The high corn content contributes to bourbon’s characteristic sweetness.

Distillation process for bourbon

Bourbon is typically distilled using column stills. The distillation process removes impurities and concentrates the alcohol content. Some bourbons may undergo multiple distillation runs to achieve desired flavors and consistency.

Maturation process for bourbon

Bourbon must be aged in new seared oak barrels. The charred interior of the barrels imparts distinct flavors and colors to the bourbon. By law, bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years, but many high-quality bourbons are aged for much longer, allowing for greater complexity and depth of flavor.

a beautiful bottle of scotch on a table

Types

Scotch

Types of Scotch whisky

Scotch can be broadly categorized into two main types: single malt and blended Scotch whisky. 

  • Single malt Scotches: Made from malted barley and produced at a single distillery. 
  • Blended Scotch whisky: Combines single malt whiskies with single grain scotch from different distilleries to achieve a desired flavor profile.

Whiskey

Types of whiskey

Whiskey can be classified into different types based on the country of origin, production methods, and ingredients used. The types of whiskey include:

  • Irish whiskey: Known for its smoothness and often exhibits notes of honey and fruit.
  • Scotch whisky: Can be broadly categorized into two main types. Single malt Scotch is composed of malted barley and produced at a single distillery. Blended Scotch whisky combines single malt whiskies with grain whiskies from different distilleries to achieve a desired flavor profile.
  • Bourbon: A uniquely American whiskey that offers rich and sweet flavors, often with notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak.
  • Rye whiskey: Primarily made from rye grains, it has a spicier profile compared to other types of whiskey.
  • Canadian whiskey: Typically lighter and smoother in style, with a blend of grains and often aged in oak barrels.

Bourbon

Types of bourbon

Bourbon can vary in terms of mash bill composition, aging period, and other factors. The types of bourbon include:

  • Straight bourbon: The most common type, made from a grain combination of at least 51% corn and aged for at least two years.
  • Wheated bourbon: Uses wheat as a secondary grain instead of rye, resulting in a softer and sweeter flavor profile.
  • High-rye bourbon: Increases the proportion of rye in the grain mix, lending a spicier character to the whiskey.
  • Small-batch bourbon: Produced in smaller quantities and often handcrafted with more attention to detail, resulting in a higher quality and more unique flavor profile.

Flavor Profiles & Tasting Notes

Scotch

Characteristics of Scotch flavors

Scotch whisky is known for its wide range of flavors, which can include notes of peat smoke, malt, fruit, spices, and oak.

The flavor profiles can modify depending on the region of production and the specific distillery. Scotch can vary from light and floral to heavily peated and smoky.

Tasting notes of scotch

Scotch whisky is known for its wide range of tasting notes that can vary depending on the specific expression and region of production. 

  • In terms of the nose, Scotch can exhibit aromas of peat smoke, malt, honey, floral notes, spices, and fruit. 
  • On the palate, Scotch offers a diverse flavor profile, ranging from light and delicate to rich and robust. Tasting notes can include hints of caramel, vanilla, toffee, oak, spices, fruits, and even maritime influences in some coastal distilleries. 
  • Smoothness in Scotch whisky can vary, with some expressions offering a silky and refined texture while others may have a more pronounced and bold character. 
  • The finish of Scotch can be long-lasting and complex, with lingering flavors that can range from smoky and peaty to fruity and spicy.

Preferred serving methods for Scotch

Scotch can be enjoyed neat (without any additional ingredients) or on the rocks (over ice) to slightly chill and dilute the drink. Adding a few drops of water can also enhance the flavors and aromas.

Some people prefer Scotch in cocktails or mixed drinks, where it can add depth and complexity to the overall flavor profile.

Whiskey

Characteristics of whiskey flavors

Whiskey flavors can vary depending on factors such as the type of grain used, the distillation process, and the aging period. Common flavor profiles in whiskey include caramel, vanilla, toffee, spices, fruit, and oak.

Different styles of whiskey, such as Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky, or American bourbon, exhibit their own distinct flavor profiles.

Tasting notes of whiskey

Whiskey, encompassing various styles such as Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky, and American bourbon, presents its own distinctive tasting notes. 

  • In terms of the nose, whiskey can reveal a range of aromas, including caramel, vanilla, toffee, spices, cereal grains, and sometimes hints of fruit or smoke, depending on the specific type. 
  • On the palate, whiskey can offer a rich and diverse flavor profile with notes of sweet caramel, toasty oak, vanilla, spices, and varying degrees of fruitiness. 
  • Smoothness in whiskey can differ among styles and brands, with some offering a smoother and more rounded mouthfeel while others may have a bolder and spicier character. 
  • The finish of whiskey can be lingering, with flavors evolving and changing over time. Some whiskeys may leave a warm and comforting sensation, while others can have a more robust and pronounced finish.

Preferred serving methods for whiskey

There are many ways to drink whiskey – it can be enjoyed precise on the rocks, with a splash of water, or mixed with cocktails, such as the whiskey sour, to suit individual preferences.

The choice of serving method can affect flavor perception. A neat serving allows for experiencing the whiskey’s full flavor profile while adding ice or water can slightly mellow the intensity. [2]

Bourbon

Characteristics of bourbon flavors

Bourbon is known for its rich and sweet flavor profile. It often exhibits notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, toffee, and sometimes spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.

The high corn mash content in the grain mixture contributes to the sweetness, while aging in charred oak barrels imparts additional complexity.

Tasting notes of bourbon

As a distinct type of American whiskey, Bourbon has its unique set of tasting notes. 

  • In terms of the nose, bourbon often exhibits rich and inviting aromas of caramel, vanilla, toffee, oak, and sometimes hints of spices or fruits. 
  • Bourbon offers a sweet and flavorful experience on the palate with prominent notes of caramel, vanilla, toasty oak, and sometimes cinnamon or nutmeg. 
  • Smoothness in bourbon can vary, with some expressions presenting a smoother and more mellow texture while others may have a bolder and spicier mouthfeel. 
  • The finish of bourbon can be satisfying and lingering, often showcasing the sweetness and complexity of the whiskey, with flavors of caramel, vanilla, and oak lingering on the palate.

Preferred serving methods for bourbon

Bourbon can be enjoyed precise, on the rocks, or in classic bourbon-based cocktails such as Old Fashioned or Mint Julep.

Neat serving allows for savoring the bourbon’s full flavor profile while adding ice or using it in cocktails can bring out different aspects of its taste.

FAQs

Which is stronger, Scotch or bourbon?

Scotch and bourbon are two different types of whiskeys; scotch offers a more intense flavor profile with a distinct smokiness, whereas bourbon leans towards a sweeter taste. 

In terms of alcohol content, scotch is usually stronger, often bottled at 60-75% ABV, while bourbon tends to be around 40% ABV.

What makes bourbon different from whiskey?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that must meet specific criteria, including being made from a grain mixture containing at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak barrels. 

Whiskey is a broader category that encompasses various styles, including bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, and more.

References

  1. https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/differences-whiskey-bourbon
  2. https://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en/whiskey-guide/whiskey-neat-vs-on-the-rocks/
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