Bourbon vs Scotch: A Tale of Two Whiskies

bourbon vs scotch

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Have you ever wondered what is the difference between all those dark spirits? What is the difference that makes a seasoned scotch sipper different from a pleasant and smooth bourbon?

Here we present the real story to distinguish one from the other!

“Whiskey” or “Whisky”?

This is a rather confusing topic to talk about when it comes to scotch and bourbon- whether we should call them “whiskey” or “whisky”? As it seems, it all depends on the country it is manufactured.

Initially, the Scots started using the spelling “whisky”. Later the Irish wanted to differentiate their ones from the Scots- so they started using the spelling “whiskey”.

Canada and Japan adopted the Scottish spelling- hence they call them “whisky”; whereas the US adopted the Irish spelling “whiskey”.

Although not all American companies use the “whiskey”- brands like Maker’s Mark and George Dickel, both of which are must-have whiskeys, are partial towards the Scottish spelling.


Bourbon vs Scotch

To be very honest, it is the law and the geography that makes a scotch-scotch and a bourbon-bourbon.

The main difference between a scotch and a whiskey lies in the geography- a bit weird, huh? In case of scotch, the law states that not only does it have to be made in Scotland but also it has to be bottled and aged in Scotland.

And for bourbon, contrary to the popular opinion, it does not have to be produced in Kentucky- the place hosting the history of this drinks origin. Bourbon can be produced in any US state, but again the law states that in order to be a bourbon the drink must be made in the US and not in any other country.


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There is a significant difference between the recipe of scotch and bourbon which also is restricted and dictated by the respective laws.

For a whiskey to call itself bourbon, the basic “mash bill” or th

e mash grain content must contain at least 51% corn or maize, and the rest filled up with rye, wheat, and barley.

The higher the corn content, the sweeter is the bourbon; and the higher the rye content, the spicier. The law also prescribes the mash to be di wistilled at 160 proof or less, barreled and aged in a new charred oak barrel at 125 proof or less and prohibits additives to be used.

By definition, bonded bourbon must be produced in one distillation season from one distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 U.S. proof (50 percent alcohol by volume).

In case of scotch, especially for single malt whiskey, it must be made with 100% malted barley. Again, grain whiskey may contain a combination of malted and unmalted barley and wheat in frequent cases.

Distillation w

The process of distillation too distinctively characterizes the scotch and bourbon. Distillation process for bourbon is almost same for all varieties. At first, a column still is used for the distillation of bourbon.

After this distillation, the spirit undergoes distillation again in a copper pot known as a “doubler” or “thumper”. Distillation process methods for scotch depends on the type and style of the scotch.

Single malts are generally double- or triple-distilled in pot stills. Whereas grain whiskeys are distilled in a column still.

Maturation Process

bourbon vs scotch

The maturation process is rather strict when it comes to bourbon. Bourbon must be barreled and aged in a new charred oak barrel cask (white oak barrels are used most commonly).

These casks are single-use only- once used these barrels are of no use to the bourbon producers. Hence the majority get sold to the scotch distillers, who are much more liberal on this aspect.

Scotch can be stored in any barrel- new or used- even if it previously have contained port, wine or even cognac.


Although both being whisk(e)ys, bourbon and scotch have their own distinctive tastes. Bourbon is basically a sweet drink, the sweetness is derived from the high content of corn in the mash bill.

The higher the corn content gets, the sweeter bourbon becomes. Due to the sweetness, bourbon is often considered an ideal whiskey for women.  On the other hand, the higher the rye content in bourbon grows, the spicier bourbon becomes.

Again bourbon often derives slight hint of toffee, cinnamon or vanilla from the charred oak barrel, giving it a more mature and smooth texture.

Scotch, on the other side, has a rather different taste.

Like bourbon, scotch taste may vary depending on the type of the barrel it was aged into, peating level and length of maturation. It tastes initially somewhat like bourbon, but scotch has a signature smokiness that “bite”s at the tail-end of a tasting.

This is why some people tend to stay away from scotch- it is an acquired taste that makes the tasting experience richer. Hence amateurs surely should not start from scotch.

Be it, wine scotch or whiskey, we always end up having personal favourites. And it really does not matter being partial to one or the other.

So grab a drink, shot it down, and savour the bite! What are you waiting for? Cheers!

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