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Scotch vs Bourbon

Charl Joost
Last Updated: February 25th, 2023

Liquor Connoisseurs will know that there is a variety of products used in the distilling process to make a variety of liquors. Many people are confused by the difference when it comes to Scotch vs Bourbon. We will help to clarify this for you.

One of the most popular liquors is whisky distilled using fermented grain and is barrel-aged for years before being bottled. The most generally used grains are corn, barley, rye, and wheat with each type of grain creating a unique flavor profile.

Scotch whisky and Bourbon whiskey are both classified as whisky but are distilled from quite a different base products and locations All whiskies are distilled and barrel-aged spirits made from fermented grain. Bourbon and Scotch.

Scotch is made from a single type of grain, usually, barley, while to be classified as a bourbon a minimum of 51% corn must be mixed with other grains.


The production of alcohol began among the caliphate societies of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

It was discovered that when heating wine the vapor can be captured and cooled leaving a clear liquid with concentrated alcohol.

Although this process was identified by Muslim scholars, traveling monks brought it to Europe. When the monks reached the British Isles where brewing traditions were more prevalent, they found that by distilling beer, they were left with a clear liquid called “Uisge Beatha”, Scots Gaelic for ‘the water of life,’ which was the origin of the modern ‘whisky.’

Scots were likely creating spirits using crude distillation techniques about the year 1000 AD which means that whisky-making in Scotland predates the arrival of the first Europeans on the North American continent.

These distilling processes were later taken to the North American continent by settlers.

Is It Whiskey Or Whisky?


You may have noticed that the terms whisky and whiskey have been used in the preceding text.

Although you can use either of the terms whichever you prefer and both terms are correct, there is a history to which terms are more applicable.

Scotland, Canada, and a large portion of other distillers use the original term of whisky while American and Irish often refer to adding an “e” calling it whiskey.

Our preference is to use the more widely used term of whisky for the collective category and will only use the terminology whiskey for brands that are branded as such.

Although whisky is made in countries other than Scotland and the USA, we will concentrate on Scottish Whisky and American Bourbon.

Other countries that produce whisky are Japan, Australia, and Europe.

What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Scotch?

Scotch and bourbon are closely related, and their alcoholic and chemical compositions are extremely similar. The taste of whisky and bourbon differs as a result of the differences in grains used.

To be classified as a whisky the product must be distilled to at least 40% minimum alcohol content and a maximum of 94.8% alcohol content.

The alcohol content of any alcoholic product is displayed as ABV (Alcohol by Volume).



The U.S. government mandates a minimum of 51% corn to be used in conjunction with malted barley, rye, and wheat and it must be manufactured within the USA.

Bourbon is named after Bourbon Country, Kentucky where it was invented. As much as 95% of bourbon is distilled in Kentucky. However, bourbon can also be distilled in other areas of the USA.

Generally, Bourbon is distilled to no more than 80% ABV which is 160 proof. The final product has to be less than 62.5% ABV during the aging process.

The oak barrels used for aging bourbon are only used for bourbon aging. The charred surface of the barrels in which Bourbon is aged produces a smokey vanilla-like flavor. Bourbon typically has a very oaky vanilla taste to it that is largely derived from the barrels in which the alcohol is fermented, stored, aged, and produced.

Bourbon has a sweeter more mellow taste with notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel while Scotch has a more intense smokiness

Regular bourbon has no set aging limit. However, to be classified as a “straight” bourbon it must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, and it cannot contain any added spirits, flavors, or colors.

This is due to the higher temperatures in Kentucky and other bourbon-producing areas where bourbon evaporates at a faster rate.



Scotch whisky is made, as the name indicates, in Scotland. Although there is a large variety of Scotch whisky, most are made from It is distilled from either barley or a mix of grains.

Furthermore, most Scotch whisky is Single Malt Scotch which is distilled in one distillery.

Blended Scotch whisky is a product of blending several barrel-aged malt whisky and grain whisky. Yeast and water are frequently used in the distillation of Scotch Whisky to encapsulate the overall flavors of the grain used.

The minimum ABV rating for Scotch whisky is 94.8%

The taste of Scotch whisky is quite sharp and distinctive which is more of an acquired taste. Single malt Scotch offers a tasty oak and woody taste with its signature peaty and smoky notes. Blended Scotch offers a smoother, malty, buttery, and spicy finish.

Oak barrels which have been used to ferment several different types of alcohol types and contents in the past are used in the aging of Scotch whisky. The retained flavors add uniqueness to the Scotch whisky. Scotch whisky’s smokey basis is produced from peat burned in the barley malting process.

The aging process for Scotch whisky must be no less than three years. Single malt Scotch is distilled in pot stills at a single distillery while blended Scotch whisky is made by combining several single malts with other whiskies in column stills.

Many popular whiskies are aged between 12 and 25 years in barrels before being bottled and put up for sale.

Main Differences Between Bourbon vs Scotch

Although Scotch and Bourbon share a smokey charred basis in flavor, they provide quite a different flavor in the final product.

  • Bourbon is made from a mixture of grains with a minimum of 51% corn while Scotch is made mainly from malted barley
  • Bourbon is considered easier to drink than Scotch, which has a very distinct flavor.
  • Bourbon is bottled with an ABV of 40 while Scotch is bottled with an ABV between 60% and 75 %.

Scotch, on the other hand, must be aged for a minimum of 3yrs however there are still various scotch classifications similar to bourbon classifications that are out there. A great example of this would be single malt scotch which is a scotch whisky that is made using malted barley in pot stills in a single distillery.

Blended scotch whisky is produced by combining various malts with whiskey varieties in column stills. The location in which the alcohol is being fermented will also play a huge factor in determining how long it should be aged and what process should be used during the aging process.

Top Bourbon Recommendations

Best Overall: Henry Mckenna Single Barrel

Every bottle of Henry Mckenna Single Barrel contains bourbon from a single barrel aged for 10 years.  It offers a nice wood-driven nose with a variety of vanilla, caramel, rye spice, cinnamon, clove, butterscotch, and some light dark fruit notes.

Best Value: Maker’s Mark

maker's mark

This esteemed wheated bourbon Maker’s Mark can be consumed on its own on ice or used in a variety of cocktails.

Best for Sipping: Widow Jane 10 Year

Widow Jane 10 Year is a five-barrel batch blend of the best bourbons from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana that is blended in Brooklyn, N.Y. For a more unique taste, it adds limestone mineral water from the famous Rosendale Mine into the blend.

Best Kentucky Bourbon: Evan Williams Single Barrel

evan williams
Image: Dominic Lockyer

Rated as the best bourbon from the home of bourbon, Kentucky. The barrel numbers, the date it entered the barrel, and the date of bottling are printed on every bottle, and it is one of Heaven Hill Distillery’s most-awarded whiskeys.

Evan Williams Single Barrel offers a balanced spicy and sweet taste based on honey and citrus.

Best High-Proof: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

russell’s reserve
Image: Josh McAllister

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is a high-proof bourbon is aged in char number four, or “alligator char,” barrels and bottled at 110 proof to offer an assertive bourbon with deep notes of fruit, chocolate, and smoke that lingers on the palate well after your first sip.

Top Scotch Recommendations


The Ardbeg’s distillery on the small remote island of Islay has produced top whisky for around 200 years. The island’s soft water, lush soil, and a large supply of peat used in the distilling process provide its smokey flavor.

They have produced many world whisky of the year products over the centuries. This 10-year-aged single malt Scotch whisky offers a taste of licorice, coffee, and tobacco.

The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky

This multi-award-winning scotch from star Sam Heughan’s brand is a bar cart must-have. Not only does it pay homage to the beloved time-travel romance, Outlander, but it’s also got an award-winning flavor with notes of warm spices.

10-year-aged single malt Scotch whisky offers a taste of licorice, coffee, and tobacco.

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

johnnie walker
Image: santa emiliavinhos

Johnny Walker produces some of the best whisky globally and offers a wide range from entry-level to some of the most expensive blended whisky available.

It provides a long and lingering finish through the bending of whisky from the Speyside and Highland resulting in a mid0range Johnnie Walker Gold Label The blend provides a smooth whisky full of vanilla and dark fruit.

Ballantine’s Finest Blended Scotch Whisky

Ballantine’s Whisky is one of my all-time favorite blended whisky choices.  It was first produced in 1910 and therefore is a relative newcomer.  It is made from single malt, grain, and highly matured whiskies offering a smooth slightly vanilla flavor.

Interestingly the bottle is shaped square which enabled travelers to conceal the bottle in their briefcases during the prohibition.

Chivas Regal 12 Year

chivas regal 12 year

Chivas Regal is another internationally renowned whisky produced by blending quality aged whiskies with local Speyside malts. It offers a concerto of notes that include honey, vanilla, and ripe apple in the 12-year aged bottle.

How to drink Scotch?

Scotch was originally served with spring water or ice to release all the flavors in a glass. The use of tap water is frowned upon by aficionados.

When asking for water to be mixed with my Scotch, a Scott asked me whether his whisky is dirty that I want to add water.

How do you drink bourbon?

Bourbon, unlike Scotch Whisky, should be consumed at room temperature without no ice or water to bring out the best-tasting notes.

Scotch vs Bourbon Conclusion

Bourbon and Scotch are both whiskies with bourbon produced in the United States with a minimum of 51% corn while Scotch whisky is made in Scotland from malted grains.

I sincerely hope that you will find the information provided informative and will enable you to select the whisky most suited to your requirements.

About The Author

Charl Joost

Charl is a trainer, public speaker, and professional writer. While he has been coached to niche down, he has many passions. These include golf, gardening, technology, and a decent cup of coffee or two. Charl loves to learn about new products and tries everything he writes about.

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