Difference between Scotch, Whiskey & Bourbon

Do you often wonder what exactly is different between Scotch and Whiskey, or Whiskey and Bourbon?

Here we seek to explain all your queries.

What is Whiskey?

Let’s start with Whiskey. Whiskey is an alcoholic drink distilled from fermented grain mash. It requires a little bit of aging but in the case of corn whiskey even that may not be required. To qualify as whiskey the drink must be distilled at minimum 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) and maximum 94.8% ABV. The type of grain used for mash, aging process, casks used etc. can produce different types of whiskies.

What is Scotch?

Scotch is made from malted barley. Barley, yeast and water are the main constituents of most scotches. Other grains like rye or wheat may be used but in minimal quantities. Caramel coloring may also be used however no additives are used to produce the spirit. It must be aged in oak casks for atleast 3 years and should have an ABV less than 94.8%. A scotch can be a scotch only if it is made in Scotland.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon whiskey was invented in the United States. It is said that corn grew in abundance in the US and farmers started using it to produce Bourbon. Bourbon contains atleast 51% corn and is produced by a process called sour mash. Sour mash mainly involves mixing the new mash with an already fermented older batch of mash. Distillation of the spirit should be at no more than 80% ABV and it should not cross 62.5% ABV when put in charred and new oak barrels for aging. Bourbon is generally aged for atleast 2 years and is considered Bourbon only if it is made in the United States of America. It does not have any added flavors, coloring or spirits. In the case of blended Bourbon, additives are allowed as long as base of the mix is 51% straight Bourbon. Blended Bourbons are labeled as per the age of the youngest whiskey used in the blend.

What is Rye?

Rye whiskey is said to have originated in the United States when new settlers from England found that the barley they bought does not thrive well in the American soil and weather conditions. Later Dutch brought rye and it was used by George Washington to distill whiskey at his distillery in Mount Vernon. American rye whiskey is made from mash that contains atleast 51% rye. Like Bourbon, at the time of Dutch brought rye and it was used by George Washington to distill whiskey at his distillery in Mount Vernon. American rye whiskey is made from mash that contains atleast 51% rye. Like Bourbon, at the time of distillation it should not cross 80% ABV and 62.5% ABV when placed for aging in casks. Canadian rye whiskey has no such rules in place. Infact it may contain very little or negligible quantity of rye and still be called rye whiskey. However, Alberta Premium from Canada is the only whiskey in the world made from 100% rye.

What is Tennessee Whiskey?

Tennessee Whiskey is straight bourbon produced in Tennessee. It is almost exactly like Bourbon with one exception that is the use of a charcoal filtering process. In this process, the whiskey is allowed to drip through 10 feet of charcoal. Rest of the process and rules that apply for classification of this whiskey are the same as that of Bourbon.

What is Irish Whiskey?

Ireland has relaxed regulations when it comes to distillation of whiskey. Any whiskey distilled from yeast fermented grain that does not cross 94.8 ABV classifies as Irish whiskey. If 2 or more grains are used then the whiskey is classified as blended Irish whiskey.  All Irish whiskey must be made in Ireland to classify as Irish whiskey.


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