Scotch, whiskey and bourbon are not synonymous. You will hear some drinks termed as scotch whisky, some as bourbon whisky, some as just whiskey (note the difference in spelling) and some as just scotch. Bourbon is not scotch. Scotch is not bourbon. Not every whisky is bourbon and not every whisky is scotch. Also, not every whisky is whiskey or scotch or bourbon. You must be completely perplexed and perhaps even baffled by now. That is what happens when anyone tries to learn the subtle and also technical difference between scotch whiskey and bourbon.
The Simple Difference Between Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon
Scotch is whisky that is produced in Scotland. Whisky produced in the United States and especially in Kentucky is known as bourbon. In that sense, both scotch and bourbon are whisky but on the east and west of the Atlantic.
Scotch is made from barley malts. Bourbon is made by distilling corn. The whisky you get served in England will most likely be scotch unless otherwise mentioned. Ireland has its own whisky, which they have named as Irish whiskey. That would not only vary in color but also taste and composition. Every country has its own approach to whisky or whiskey. Let us stay confined to scotch and bourbon for specificity. Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey goes through a special filtration process involving sugar maple charcoal. This method of filtering is also called Lincoln County Process.
The Elaborate Difference Between Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon
Whiskey or whisky is made from corn, barley, wheat or rye. Whiskey is usually brown and is aged in white oak casks. Whiskey has a range of colors, odors and tastes. Whiskey can be drunk neat or as shots, there are some cocktails and blends. It can be served on the rocks (ice) or with some water.
Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland. If any whiskey is made anywhere other than Scotland, it cannot be called scotch, even if it has the same ingredients, recipe and method of distillation. Scotch is typically made from malted barley and it is aged in oak barrels for a period of at least three years. There are scotch whiskeys that have been aged for twelve years and even thirty six years. Some brands of scotch often taste like bourbon whiskeys but they would have a bit more smokiness. Scotch can be drunk neat or with water, ice and other flavored drinks. Usually, it is consumed neat or with ice.
Scotch is an acquired taste, just like bourbon. Scotch doesn’t go well with flavored drinks or with other alcohols. Hence, scotch is almost never an ingredient for popular cocktails. Rarely has a cocktail made from scotch been popular and it is not just because of the fixation of purists.
Bourbon is so called because it originated in what is called Old Bourbon in Kentucky. Distilled from corn, bourbon whiskey should have 51% corn or more. The traditional method mandates that the distilled corn and the resulting whiskey be kept in charred oak containers and there should be no additives whatsoever. Bourbon is usually drunk as is with or without ice. It can be spiced up but purists are against such practices. Bourbon whiskey can be spiced up with cinnamon, black peppercorn, egg white, lemon and bitters. There are many cocktail recipes for bourbon.
The Popularity of Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon
Those who love scotch don’t really love bourbon. Those who love bourbon will not like scotch. It is a strange reality since both scotch and bourbon have many similarities. Pop culture has influenced many opinions and people have not let their acquired taste develop. Even wine calls for an acquired taste. Not many people will appreciate fine wine the very first time they have any type of wine.
Over the years, bourbon and scotch have become very popular. In many underdeveloped and developing countries, whiskeys are primarily made from wheat. The use of rye is also common in many countries, including the United States and Canada. But scotch and bourbon specifically require barley and corn respectively. This has made them more expensive than others. Cheap whisky is not a term that is associated with scotch or bourbon unless you are grabbing one at a place where it is being produced. Any imported or exported scotch and bourbon will have a somewhat premium price. This has also made the two brands of whisky quite popular around the world. They are meant for what one can call connoisseurs.
Owing to the price and the taste, scotch whiskey and bourbon have become somewhat of a classy drink but they remain a hot favorite among masses. This has lead to the strata of different kinds of scotch whiskey and bourbon. People now look at specific years for the age of the specific whiskey. The more aged, the better.