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Bourbon, Scotch, Whiskey, Whisky… What the heck is the difference?

The Juice

If you’re not a master mixologist or a dedicated lover of all dark spirits, odds are the distinctions between Bourbon, Scotch, Whiskey, and Whisky are a bit blurry to you. Do they all taste the same? Are they just the same liquor with different names? Is there really a difference?

Truthfully there are a few differences. Let’s check them out.

Whiskey and Whisky: 

Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash (AKA the process in which starches are converted to fermentable sugars). Various grains are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. These grains may be malted, meaning the grain is made to germinate by soaking in water and is then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, which are often old sherry or wine casks, or may also be made of charred white oak.

Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and ageing in wooden barrels.

We know you noticed it, and we noticed it too: the spelling. Why are there two versions of the same word, just missing one ‘e,’ and how is it different? There are two schools of thought on the issue. One is that the spelling is just really a matter of regional language spelling conventions. More simply, depending where you were, it was spelled differently, just like favorite or favourite. The other is that the spelling depends on the style or origin of the spirits being described. The spelling whiskey is commonly used in Ireland and the United States, while Whisky is used in all other whisky-producing countries. This being said, the usage in the U.S. has not always been consistent. American brands such as george Dickel, Maker’s Mark, and Old Forester all use ‘whisky’ on their labels. So we just say, spell it however you’d like!

Main Areas where Whiskey/Whiskey is produced:

  • Ireland (check out our Irish Whisky blog for more info!)
  • Scotland
  • United States
  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Australia
  • Taiwan

Scotch: 

Now you’ll be able to understand scotch more easily now that we have gotten the whiskey, whisky dilemma out of the way. The whisky that is made in Scotland is simply called whisky. Outside of Scotland and in the UK regulations that govern its production, it is commonly called Scotch whisky, or simply “Scotch,” especially in North America.

All Scotch whisky was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries then began making whisky from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. As of 2020, there were 134 Scotch whisky distilleries operating in Scotland. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. The minimum bottling strength according to the regulation is 40% ABV. 

Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories:

  1. Single malt Scotch whisky
  2. Single grain Scotch whisky
  3. Blended malt Scotch whisky (formerly called “vatted malt” or “pure malt”)
  4. Blended grain Scotch whisky
  5. Blended Scotch whisky.

Bourbon:

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey primarily made from corn. Bourbon has been around since the 18th century and can be made anywhere in the United States, although it’s most closely associated with the south, kentucky in particular. Bourbon sold in the U.S. must be produced in the U.S. from at least 51% corn and stored in a new container of charred oak. And no, bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky, though they make some bourbons there too!

So there you have it, a quick breakdown of the subcategories of whiskey. It can get a little confusing and intricate, but aren’t you glad you know it now? We sure are.

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