Doctor's Notes

Whiskey Basics Vol. 4: How is Bourbon Different From Scotch?

Mar 30, 2024

Two of the most popular varieties, bourbon and Scotch, may look similar in their caramel hues and smooth textures, but make no mistake – they are two very different beasts. Let’s take a closer look at these two titans of the whiskey world.

Bourbon whiskey is made in the good ol’ US of A from a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn. Popular brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Wild Turkey are household names and can be found in any self-respecting whiskey lover’s liquor cabinet. Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels, bringing deeper, richer flavors and color to the whiskey. And let’s not forget the sweetness – bourbon has a natural sweetness that comes from the corn mash, making it perfect for sipping or mixing into a classic cocktail like an Old Fashioned or a Mint Julep.

Now let’s move across the pond to Scotland, where Scotch whiskey reigns supreme. Scotch is made from malted barley, and depending on the variety, may also contain other grains like wheat or rye. Popular brands like Glenlivet, Macallan, and Laphroaig are the go-to choices for Scotch aficionados. Scotch is aged in used oak barrels for a minimum of three years, giving it a distinct smoky flavor and a golden hue. The flavor of Scotch can vary widely depending on the region it comes from – for example, Speyside Scotch is known for its sweetness and light floral notes, while Islay Scotch has a strong peat flavor that can be an acquired taste.

So what’s the difference between bourbon and Scotch, you ask? Well, for starters, the production process is different – bourbon is made from corn and aged in new oak barrels, while Scotch is made from malted barley and aged in used oak barrels. The flavor profiles are also distinct – bourbon has a natural, deep sweetness (and spiciness if using rye in the mash bill), while Scotch is known for its smoky, peaty flavor, although this varies substantially across production regions. 

So there you have it – bourbon and Scotch may look similar, but they are two very different drinks. Whether you prefer the sweet, smooth flavor of bourbon or the peaty complexity of Scotch, there’s a whiskey out there for everyone. So pour yourself a dram, raise a glass, and toast to the wonderful world of whiskey. Cheers!

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