Difference Between Scotch and Bourbon

If you share the good fortune of knowing a seasoned whisky drinker, the possibility that you have seen them start an endless monologue about the different types of whiskies. There is a possibility they also share some very extreme opinions about the whole Bourbon Vs Scotch debate.

But it is still possible to have some amount of residual confusion regarding the subject, mostly on the lines of ‘What is the difference between Bourbon whiskey and Scotch whisky?’, or the more adversarial ‘Bourbon Whiskey Vs Scotch Whisky – which one is better?’

If these are the questions that dominate your whisky loving mind, we have the right answers to get you started on the most interesting lifelong journey you may ever have – tasting and appreciating fine whisky.

Let us list the chief distinctive factors that indicate the difference between Bourbon whiskey and Scotch whisky from each other;

1. Countries of Origin

Bourbon whiskey was first introduced in the United States of America with the exact time of its origin unclear. It is said to have been first introduced around 1820 and is commonly associated with the Southern territories especially Kentucky.

Scotch on the other hand was first developed and distilled exclusively in Scotland with first mentions of it dating back to the 1400s. Earlier four, but now a total of five territories are recognized as a distinct region of Scotland, and the Scotch whiskies produced in these areas carry their names. The Highlands, the Lowlands, the Isle of Islay, Campbeltown and the Speyside are the five region of Scotland that produce fine Scotch.

2. Ingredients

While traditional Bourbon whiskey uses a major portion of corn, Scotch whisky is produced using malted wheat or malted rye.

Bourbon whiskey used smaller amounts of wheat and rye, whereas Scotch whisky is typically developed a single type of malted grain.

3. Types of Bourbon and Scotch Whisky

Both Bourbon and Scotch whisky have different types of categories that indicating slightly different manners of producing them, or a different set of ingredients used or both.

Bourbon whiskey has three different types and they are:

a) Traditional, b) Wheat and c) Rye Bourbon whiskeys.

Traditional Bourbon whiskey is produced using over 70% of Corn mash with small amounts of Rye and Wheat used in equal parts.

Wheat Bourbon on the other hand is produced by replacing Rye in the mash.

Similarly, Rye Bourbon whiskey uses less corn, more Rye and little to no Barley.

Scotch whisky has slightly more confined restrictions as compared to Bourbon regarding its preparation and definition. Its five categories are divided as following:

Single malt Scotch whisky indicates that the spirit has been produced using only water and malted barley at one distillery.

Single grain Scotch whisky means that the spirit has been produced using an addition of a different grain type to the malted barley and water but from a single distillery.

Blended Scotch malt whisky is the product of mixing two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from two different distilleries.

Blended grain malt whisky is the product of mixing two or more single grain scotch whiskies from different distilleries.

Blended scotch whisky is the product of mixing single or blended malt whiskies with other single or blended malt whiskies.

4. Legal Definitions

Believe it or not, the difference between Bourbon whiskey and Scotch whisky exists not only in the number of manners listed above, but their definitions too, are very clearly specified. The Bourbon Vs Scotch whisky debate is further rendered moot when you look at their legal definitions.

Bourbon whiskey is defined as whiskey produced in the country of United States of America through a grain mixture that must be at least 51% Corn. A spirit can only be termed Bourbon whiskey if it has been aged in new, charred oak containers and allowed to age for whatever duration of time since Bourbon does not have a specified aging period like Scotch whisky.

It has to be distilled at a 160 US Proof (80% alcohol by volume), barreled at 125 US Proof (62.5% alcohol by volume) and bottled at no more than 80 US Proof (40% alcohol by volume).

Scotch on the other hand has to be produced at a distillery at the five regions of Scotland as listed above. Scotch whisky allows no artificial coloring or substances except for plain caramel coloring (E150A).

A minimum alcoholic strength of 40% (80 US Proof) is also the alcohol by volume requirement for the bequeathing of the name Scotch to a whisky.

5. Taste

While there aren’t many explicitly noticeable changes when it comes to Bourbon Whiskey Vs Scotch whisky but the one chief distinctive aspect is Bourbon’s smoky tasting notes that not all Scotch whiskies may share. This smokiness is of course lent by the use of charred Oak barrels.

Another key difference between the two is that Bourbon whiskey is typically sweeter as compared to Scotch whisky as all the other finer differing attributes depend on how a particular distillery prepares their spirit.

6. Popular Bourbon and Scotch Whisky brands

A number of fine American Bourbon’s are extremely popular not only in their home country but all over the world. Brands such as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Booker’s and Pappy Van Winkle are some of the most exquisite and sought after Bourbon whiskey brands.

Scotch on the other hand boasts of some of the world’s most bestselling and elegant whiskies to their name such Chivas Regal, a blend of single malt and grain whiskies; The Glenlivet, an iconic single malt whisky brand that is credited with being ‘the single malt that started it all; Johnnie Walker, another blended Scotch whisky brand that has enjoyed tremendous success; and many more.

These are the things that set apart the two types of whiskies, and if you are looking to find the winner of the battle of Bourbon Vs Scotch whisky, there aren’t any. It all depends on your preferences. Cheers!