Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Scotch: What’s The Difference?

Bourbon, whiskey, and scotch are all whiskey.

Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Scotch

Bourbon vs whiskey vs scotch: what’s the difference?

Bourbon, whiskey, and scotch are all whiskeys.

Whiskey comes in different varieties. Scotch and bourbon are the most popular types of whiskey. 

Scotch comes from Scotland. Bourbon is born only in the U.S.A. Whiskey can be made anywhere.

Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Scotch

Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Scotch: What’s the Difference?

How are bourbon, whiskey, and scotch different?

The main differences between bourbon vs whiskey vs scotch are the kind of grain used and where the spirit is produced.

The Mash

All types of whiskey, including bourbon and scotch, come from fermented grain mashes aged in new charred oak barrels.

Distillers use wheat, corn, barley, and other grains. 

A “mash” in the world of whiskey refers to the mixture of grain, water, and yeast that is initially fermented to produce alcohol.

Distillers are very careful to regulate the pH of their mash; if it gets too high (basic), unwanted bacterial growth can occur.

Bourbon Whiskey and Corn 

Bourbon is an American made whiskey that must contain at least 51% corn in its mash and be aged in new, charred oak barrels.

They must age the bourbon whiskey in new, but charred oak containers. 

Distillers who make straight bourbon must let it age for a minimum of two years. Distilled bourbon whiskey must have at least 40% alcohol. 

Bourbon Cocktail Recipes

Scotch Whiskey and Barley

Scotch whiskey, often called scotch, comes from malted barley mash. 

Appropriately, scotch comes from Scotland, where distillers make either single malt or single grain.

Single malt comes from one malted barley mixed with water. A single grain can have more grains than barley, but only one distiller mixes it. 

Like bourbon, distillers must age scotch in an oak container, but for a minimum of three years. It also has 40% alcohol when bottled. 

Whiskey and Grains

Whiskey’s mash can be made from a blend of grains, such as barley, corn, rye or wheat.

Different Flavors

The oak barrels give bourbon, whiskey, and scotch flavors that have a smokey and charred note.

Bourbon often has a touch of vanilla from the barrel, while scotch has an outdoorsy flavor from peat the distiller used to malt the barley.

Not all distillers use peat when making scotch, so only a handful of scotch whiskeys have a peat note. 

Aging Process

Even though the United States regulations do not require a minimum amount of aging, a quality Straight Bourbon must age for two years.

Distillers cannot add anything to the beverage.

Scotch whiskey, must have a minimum of three years to rest in the barrels. 

Because scotch ages longer, many bottles spend between 10 and 25 years in the barrels. 

As most bourbons come from Kentucky, the warm weather speeds up the evaporation process. Scotland’s climate is colder, so the drink needs more time in the barrel. 

What Does Bourbon vs Whiskey vs Scotch Taste Like?

Bourbon Taste

Because bourbon is aged in new, charred-oak barrels, it’s typically described as having notes of caramel, vanilla and oak.

Bourbon can also have tasting notes such as baking spices, black pepper, cocoa and fruit.

Bourbon tends to be smoother than whiskey, with a softer mouthfeel and an overall sweet-presenting flavor, making it a good entry-level sipper for those new to whiskey.

Wheated bourbons have a mash bill with a high concentration of wheat, which creates an even sweeter taste.

Whiskey Taste

The taste of whiskey varies depending on the style. Whiskey tends to have a woody or oaky flavor profile with notes of spice, fruit, nuts, vanilla or caramel.

Although some of whiskey’s flavor notes overlap with bourbon, whiskey tends to have a grainier, sharper mouthfeel than bourbon.

Rye whiskey, which has a mash that contains at least 51 percent rye, tends to have a spicier flavor profile than bourbon and some other whiskeys.

Scotch Taste

Scotch whisky has a sharp, distinct flavor that’s more of an acquired taste than bourbon. Blended Scotch is smoother: malty and buttery, with a spicy finish.

Single malt Scotch tastes oaky and woody, with signature peaty and smoky notes.

The scotch taste characteristics are smoke, seaweed, brine and apple. The distillers in the north of Islay tend to be less peaty and more pleasant.

They also have a reputation for being saltier since the island encounters severe weather from the sea.

Scotch doesn’t taste bitter for sure and has a mild sweetness.

Fruity, floral and citrus flavors are more dominant in a Scotch than the sweet sugary flavor.

Whiskey or Whisky: What’s the Difference?

Whiskey and whisky are spellings used for the same distilled spirit made from fermented grains.

Whiskey is the spelling used for spirits made in the United States and Ireland, while whisky is used for those made in Scotland, Canada, and Japan.

The difference lies in the country of origin.

How to Drink Whiskey

Some people enjoy whiskey straight or on the rocks, where they drink a shot or two without anything other than ice.

A neat whiskey is the beverage by itself in a small glass. Whiskey drinkers can enjoy the flavor when they drink it neat or on the rocks. 

Some people find the flavor overwhelming, so they prefer to drink it in a cocktail.

These are popular choices for bourbon and scotch whiskey. 

  • An Old Fashioned includes whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. 
  • The Manhattan has bourbon whiskey, bitters, and a fortified white wine called sweet vermouth. Bartenders usually add cherries for flavor. 
  • The classic highball includes whiskey, ice, and ginger ale. 
  • A whiskey sour includes bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Bartenders also add cherries and ice. 
  • The John Collins uses the whiskey sour base, but also includes club soda. 
  • The Mint Julep, includes Kentucky bourbon, simple syrup, crushed ice, and mint leaves as a garnish and flavoring. As many cocktails include sugared syrups, the calories increase over a basic whiskey on the rocks. 

Bourbon Cocktail Recipes


What is bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, distilled from a mash made primarily of corn. Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn in its mash and be aged in new, charred-oak barrels.

What is whiskey?

Whiskey originated in Ireland. It is a type of spirit distilled from a fermented mix of grains, including barley, corn, rye or wheat. Whiskey is produced around the world, including in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Canada and the United States. There are many different types of whiskey, including scotch, bourbon, rye, and single malt.

What is scotch?

Scotch is a whiskey that’s produced and bottled in Scotland (here it’s spelled whisky, without the ‘e’). There are five types of Scotch, but two well-known kinds are single malts and blended whiskeys. Single malts are made by one distillery using malted barley, aged for at least 3 years in oak casks and bottled at no less than 80 proof.

What Is malt?

Blended Scotch whiskeys can either be a blend of malt whiskeys, a blend of grain whiskeys, or a combination of the two, which tends to be the most common (as with Johnnie Walker, one of the most well-known brands).

What is Kentucky bourbon?

To earn the reputable label of being a Kentucky bourbon, the beverage must be processed – distilled and aged – in the Bluegrass State. Only about 5% of bourbons come from a state other than Kentucky. The term bourbon came from Kentucky, most notably, in Bourbon County.

What is Fireball whiskey?

Fireball is labeled as a ‘Cinnamon Whisky’. The legal minimum alcohol required for whiskey is 80 proof. According to the maker, Fireball Cinnamon is a malt-based 33 proof ‘product’, whereas Fireball Whisky is a whisky-based 66 proof ‘product’.

What are the important compounds in whiskey barrel science?

The important compounds in whiskey barrel science are Cellulose, Hemicellulose, Lignin, Tannins, and Wood Lactones.

What role do these compounds play in the final product?

These compounds play a significant role in creating the final flavor and fragrance of the whiskey. For example, Hemicellulose breaks down into wood sugars upon exposure to high temperatures, which allows for caramelization on the interior surface of the barrel, while Lignin is responsible for the vanilla and spice flavors commonly found in whiskeys.

What are the different variables that occur when a barrel imparts them into the spirit?

The four main variables that occur when a barrel imparts compounds into the spirit are extraction, oxidation, charring, and unpredictability.

What is the impact of oxidation and charring on the flavor of whiskey?

Oxidation and charring have a significant impact on the flavor of whiskey. Oxidation increases the complexity and intensity of flavors, while charring not only adds flavors but also subtracts unwanted elements such as sulfides.

Written by Gina Elizabeth

Gina Elizabeth is an investment analyst and blogger. She sometimes eats pretty good, other times not. Hey, you gotta live, you know?