Scotch Vs. Whiskey Vs. Bourbon: Differences Explained

Informational

The difference between scotch vs bourbon

Why do people get confused over scotch vs. whiskey vs. bourbon? Well, they all look the same. But while these liquors share a similar appearance, they are different in some ways. 

Whiskey has many types, including but not limited to scotch and bourbon. Meanwhile, the difference between scotch and bourbon is that the former has an intense smokiness while the latter has a sweeter and mellow taste.

Read on to learn more about these spirits’ unique characteristics and find out which among these types of whiskey is your preferred choice.

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At Quick Glance

Scotch

Bourbon

Made from malted barley

Made from grain mash of at least 51% corn

40% ABV or higher (80 proof)

40% ABV or higher (80 proof)

Originated in Scotland

Originated in the United States

Intense smoky flavor

Sweet and mellow taste

Aged at least 3 years in used oak barrels

Aged for at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels

Amber color

Amber color

Priced higher

Priced lower

What is Whiskey?

Glasses and a bottle of whiskey

Whiskey is a dark distilled spirit that is made from a fermented grain mash or by distilling beer. The mash can be a combination of barley, rye, corn, and wheat. The liquor is housed in aged barrels that are usually made out of white oak. In countries such as Ireland, United States, Scotland, Canada, and Japan, whiskey is the most consumed and popular liquor.

“Whiskey” and “whisky” are both acceptable, but the spelling differs because of geographic locations. The former is used in the United States and Ireland since the grain alcohols are named whiskey. Meanwhile, the latter is used in Canada and Scotland.

Whiskey is known for its oaky, grainy, vanilla, and caramel notes. However, the intensity of these flavors varies depending on the type and amount of ingredients used. This is why different types of whiskey, such as scotch and bourbon, are pretty much different from each other.

What is Scotch?

Glasses of scotch

Scotch is a type of whisky that is made in Scotland. It uses more malted barley than other ingredients and is aged in barrels for at least three years. Just like rye, scotch is noted for its smoky and spicy flavor that lingers a bit in your throat. 

For this reason, most people are really not a fan of scotch since it can be “too much.” You can consume this drink neat or on the rocks. Also, you can add a few drops of water to release the flavors of the drink more.

What is Bourbon?

A glass of bourbon with a cinnamon stick

Compared to scotch, bourbon is mainly made of corn. For a whiskey to be legally called bourbon, the mash bill must contain 51% corn, it must be aged in a charred American oak barrel, have 40% ABV (80 proof), and must be made in the U.S.

This type of whiskey has a sweeter and smoother taste, making it a great choice among drinkers.

The Difference Between Scotch vs. Bourbon 

At this point, the difference between scotch vs. whiskey vs. bourbon might be more apparent. But the question that may arise in your curious mind is which among the two whiskeys should you have. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between scotch and bourbon. 

  • Flavor - Winner: Bourbon

As mentioned earlier, the difference in the main component of the mash bill used in scotch and bourbon is the main reason why they have opposite flavors. There is nothing particularly wrong with the smoky and spicy taste of scotch. However, not everyone can handle such complex flavors. 

Meanwhile, bourbon has a more subtle spice and apparent sweetness, making it very flexible to be drunk on its own or as a base for cocktails.

  • Color - It’s a Tie!

The difference between scotch and bourbon when it comes to color is good as nothing. Both types of whiskey have an amber hue that results from being in contact with the barrels. Since the liquor stays in the wooden container for a long time, it is mixed with the wood’s flavor and pigment.

  • Smooth Finish - It’s a Tie!

The smoothness of scotch vs. bourbon lies in the number of months or years aged in oak barrels. The longer the liquor stays inside the wooden container, the smoother or lighter it becomes. 

Since scotch is usually aged for three years and a straight bourbon for two years, it develops a more mellow flavor. However, some bourbons are only aged at a maximum of four months which make their finish stronger.

  • Price - Winner: Bourbon

The difference between scotch and bourbon when it comes to price is pretty apparent. Barley is much more expensive than corn, which is the main reason why scotch is more costly. Moreover, grain prices in the United States are lower than those in Scotland. 

Conclusion

In our quest to find out the difference between scotch vs. bourbon, the clear victor is bourbon. It does not have an intense and complex taste compared to scotch, so it's more accessible to anyone. Plus, it has a lower price!

Choose Scotch Whisky if:

  • You enjoy sharp and smoky flavors in your liquor.
  • You are ok with spending more.

Choose Bourbon Whiskey if:

  • You want sweeter and mellow notes in your drink. 
  • You want to save money on a whiskey bottle.

Scotch vs. whiskey vs. bourbon is quite hard to differentiate at first. However, once you get right into the drink’s nitty-gritty, you’ll be able to identify them from each other. 

Let us know in the comment section which characteristic of scotch and bourbon is a dead giveaway for you.

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  • Kurtis Bubier on

    I agree this article is a bit hard on Scotch. It is true though that Scotch does does leave a bite in your throat. I also agree that you have to spend a little more money for either one. But the money is better spent on a good scotch because it has the potential to change more. With 51% corn as flavor there is less variance. I like both depending on my mood. There are times I want a smoky peaty flavored scotch which is quite opposite from a sweet bourbon. I also get more vanilla flavor from a good scotch. You can get a very good bottle of scotch for $40 – $60 dollars. You want to try something smokey and peaty? Try Ardbeg 10 year single malt. The next discussion should be single malts vs. blends.

  • David on

    Wow, this article is so biased in favor of bourbon that it’s barely worth reading. Now, I love both Scotch and Bourbon, so it’s hard to hear Scotch being given such a hard time. The best whiskey I’ve ever had was Scotch and it was not a bit smoky. The advantage Scotch has over Bourbon is that it is allowed to be matured in barrels other than new American charred white oak. Maturing in wine, beer or sherry barrels can lend many new and exciting flavors to Scotch. Bourbon flavor on the other hand is handicapped by the barrel restriction. Yes, Scotch can be more expensive, but the best Bourbons will cost just as much as the best Scotch’s so perhaps they’re even. Bourbon has a lower starting price point at least in the US, but in my opinion, those cheap bottles are for those who drink for inebriation instead of flavor. A good bourbon or a good Scotch will hit your wallet starting around $40-60 a bottle depending on your local tax situation.


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