Scotch vs Bourbon – A Taster’s Club Look Into Two Distinct Spirits
Scotch vs Bourbon – how different are they from each other, and which one is better for sipping? Besides their nutritional value and the fact that they’re both distilled from grains, Scotch and Bourbon are very different from each other, including where they’re produced, their ingredients, their flavor profiles, the legal requirements of each type, and even the spelling of their whisk(e)y categories.
Bourbon is whiskey, whereas Scotch is whisky. The spelling difference comes from the translation of words from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms, but now it’s used to distinguish whether a whisk(e)y is made in Scotland or not. Scotch whisky is made in Scotland, and Bourbon whiskey is made in America. Let’s discover more about what makes these spirits unique in this guide through Scotch vs Bourbon.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn.
Just like Scotch must be made in Scotland, Bourbon must be made in the United States. While the rules are slightly less strict with bourbon than Scotch, it still has to conform to a few requirements, which you can read more about in our blog post on how to drink bourbon.
The spirit must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol and be no more than 62.5% ABV when poured into casks for aging in new charred oak barrels. Finally, while Bourbon has no minimum aging period, a Straight Bourbon must be aged for no less than two years and have no added coloring, flavor or other spirits added.
What is Scotch?
Like we mentioned, Scotch whisky is made in Scotland. Back in the olden days, whisky was used for medicinal purposes, including an antiseptic. The first known written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland of 1494, and it was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries began producing whisky made from other grains like wheat and rye in the late 18th century, but it must still contain malted barley. Scotch Whisky must be matured in oak casks for at least three years, but it’s often matured much longer. You may have heard that Scotch tastes better as it ages. This is because the longer it sits in a cask, the rougher, harsher flavors of the alcohol are broken down by the wood, resulting in a smoother liquid with more flavor complexities.
Types of Scotch Whisky
Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories.
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky is distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley without adding any other grains.
- Single Grain Scotch Whisky is distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted grains.
- Blended Scotch Whisky is the product of blending different types of whiskies and sometimes also neutral grain spirits, coloring, and flavorings.
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is distilled at more than one distillery from a combination of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies.
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky is made from two or more single malt scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
You can learn more about these whisky categories here.
Types of Bourbon
Bourbon can be broken up into several different categories as well.
- High Rye Bourbon is not legally defined, but in general, bourbons that include a mash bill of 20% to 35% rye are considered “high rye” and deliver an extra helping of spice notes.
- High Corn bourbon contains more than 51% corn, and many of them are made from 60% to 70% corn. While there aren’t many bourbons higher than this, there are some with 80% to 100% corn, and these are much sweeter than other bourbons.
- Wheated bourbon substitutes wheat for rye, so they’re a combination of corn, wheat, and barley.
- Straight bourbon has been aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels and has no added coloring or flavoring.
- Single barrel bourbon indicates the liquor has spent its life in just one barrel or cask. Water can be added to reach the desired proof, but not always.
- Blended bourbon is a mixture of one or more straight bourbons produced in different U.S. states, and they can contain other flavorings, coloring, or spirits. The rule is that it must be at least 51% straight bourbon.
- Small batch bourbon is made in smaller batches from hand-selected barrels, but there isn’t a regulated definition for small-batch bourbon. Some bottles include the number of barrels or bottles produced on the label, but it’s unnecessary.
- Barrel-proof bourbon means that the barrel or cask is poured, filtered, and bottled without adding any water. As a result, the complexity of flavors varies.
You can learn more about the types of bourbon and their flavor characteristics in our blog post Taster’s Club Guide to Bourbon.
Scotch vs Bourbon – Which One Tastes Better?
If you’re trying to decide whether to purchase a good Scotch or a good bourbon, there are several things to consider.
While both Scotch and bourbon can have smokey, charred notes, they come about in different ways. For example, Bourbon draws its oaky, vanilla-like flavors from the charred surface of its cask, whereas Scotch’s smoke comes largely from peat burned in the barley malting process. This doesn’t mean that every Scotch has a peaty flavor, though, and in fact, only two of the five Scotch-producing regions are known for their signature peatiness.
Bourbon tends to have sweeter, more mellow characteristics, with vanilla, oak, caramel, grain, nutmeg, and cinnamon notes.
Scotch has a sharp, distinct flavor that’s more of an acquired taste than bourbon. You’ll find that blended Scotch is smoother and maltier with a spicy finish. Single malt Scotch tastes oaky and woody, with some peaty and smoky notes mentioned above.
Deciding between a Scotch vs bourbon is a personal choice that depends on what flavor experience you’re looking for. Some prefer the sweeter spiciness of bourbon, while others prefer the smoky, malty flavors of Scotch. We recommend trying both to expand your palate and learn more about the myriad of flavor combinations they are each known for.
How to Drink Scotch vs Bourbon
Despite their differences, Scotch and Bourbon can both be enjoyed in similar ways. The most important thing to remember is that each sipping experience begins before you take your first sip- it actually begins with familiarizing yourself with the bottle label. First, find out what type of whiske(y) it is, where it’s made, the ABV, and the age statement. Then, you’ll want to admire the color of the liquid- how deep is the shade? Does it look different in the bottle versus the glass?
That brings us to the type of glass you’ll choose. Glencairn glasses were developed specifically for Scotch drinkers, but they work just as well for bourbon. They are thick glasses, perfect for swirling, and their wide opening enhances the aromas and flavors as you sip them. You can also use a tumbler, which is perfect for classic cocktails.
There are a few other glasses you might want to experiment with, including a newer wide-mouth option, which you can learn more about here.
When you’re ready to sip your whisk(e)y, let the juice roll across your tongue, allowing the flavors to linger in your mouth for a few seconds. Then breathe out through your nose and mouth at the same time to get the full range of flavors. Neither Scotch nor Bourbon is for chugging, so be sure to sip it slowly and intently, savoring each moment of the tasting experience.
IS SCOTCH GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH?
There have been multiple studies showing evidence that Scotch lowers the risk of heart disease. It can also help fight cancer, promote weight loss, reduce the risk of diabetes and dementia, reduce stress, and even fight the common cold. Many whiskey drinkers also use it as a digestive aid.
IS IT OK TO DRINK SCOTCH EVERY DAY?
The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol-related risks by drinking in moderation, but in general, yes, it’s safe to drink daily.
WHY IS SCOTCH MORE EXPENSIVE THAN BOURBON?
The price difference is attributed to the cost of the ingredients. For example, scotch is made from barley, and Bourbon is made from corn, which is cheaper than barley. Besides that, grain prices in the US are significantly lower than what they cost in Scotland.
Scotch vs Bourbon In Summary…
Bourbon and Scotch are both types of whisk(e)y. Bourbon is produced in the United States and is mainly made from corn mash, while Scotch is produced in Scotland and is typically made from malted grains. While they’re both produced differently, have different regulations, and a wide variety of flavor profiles, they’re both excellent options for sipping at almost any occasion. Have you heard of the woman in Britain who recently celebrated her 112th birthday? When interviewed, she attributed her good health to sipping a dram of whiskey each night before bed. So let’s raise our glasses to long life, good health, and excellent whisk(e)y. Cheers.