What Is the Difference Between Scotch and Whiskey?

What Is the Difference Between Scotch and Whiskey
Photo by Taylor Brandon

When people think of Scotch and whiskey, they usually think both are the same. The truth is Scotch is actually whiskey. Where it gets weird is the fact that not all whiskey is scotch. 

At a glance, the main difference between scotch and whiskey is where production takes place. Scotch is produced in Scotland and Ireland and is usually blended from single malts or blends of malt whiskies. 

The term Scotch refers to the region where the whisky is produced. In contrast, whiskey is produced in America and Canada and is usually distilled from grain.

In this post, we’ll explain what makes Scotch and Whiskey different and why you should choose one over the other. The next time you go to a bar and see someone pick scotch over whiskey, you may be able to explain why.

Table of Contents

What’s the difference between Scotch and whiskey?

Let’s go over some of the key differences between Scotch and Whiskey.

Production

Scotch is made primarily in Scotland and Ireland. It’s often blended with other whiskies. On the other hand, whiskey is made in America and Canada. It’s usually distilled from grains such as corn, barley, rye, wheat, and oats.

Blending

Scotch is typically blended from multiple whiskies. This allows it to have more complexity than straight-up single malts. Scotch whiskeys are available in three different mixes such as malt scotch, grain scotch, and a mixture of malt and grain scotch.

Whiskey is usually distilled and then blended with other whiskeys. This gives it a lighter taste that isn’t as complex as Scotch.

Flavor Profile

Scotch tends to be sweeter than whiskey. It has a lot of caramel flavors and fruity notes. On the other hand, whiskey is drier and has stronger flavors like vanilla, oak, and smoke.

Distillation Process

Whiskey is made by distilling fermented grains such as barley, wheat, rye, corn, oats, etc., on a still. A still is basically a large pot made of copper with an opening at the top through which steam rises.

This pot removes sulfur-based compounds from the alcohol. It also creates new molecules called esters, which give the spirit its flavor.

The process of making scotch is quite different. There’s a law dictating how distilleries can produce their own scotch brand.

They must only produce it in a single distillery located in Scotland. Furthermore, the distillers must ferment their mash (a mixture of ground-up grains) using only yeast.

Maturation Process

Another major difference between Scotch and whiskey is the maturation process. Distillers leave scotch to mature for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. During maturation, the flavors of the wood impart themselves into the spirit. 

After three years, the scotch will be ready to drink. Distillers keep most of them for eight to ten years or more in the woods, evening out the flavor of this exquisite drink.

On the other hand, whiskey is not aged in oak barrels. Instead, it gets matured in wooden casks. These casks allow the whiskey to develop more complex flavors.

Malt Whisky vs. Grain Whisky

scotch and whiskey come from grains. Scotch is made from malted barley, a type of cereal germinating before being used to brew beer.

The process involves soaking barley kernels in water until sprouts appear. Then, the barley is dried with hot air and roasted.

On the other hand, whiskey comes from fermented grain, including wheat, rye, corn, and oats. The fermentation process involves adding enzymes to the grain and allowing them to break down the starches inside the grain.

What is Scotch?

Scotch whisky is one of the world’s best-known spirits. It’s produced mainly in Scotland and Ireland. According to the Scotch Whiskey 2009 regulation, there are various types of scotch, including Single Malt, Blended Malt, Single Grain, Blended Grain, and Blended Scotch Whiskey.

Single Malt Scotch

A single malt Scotch is made exclusively from malted barley. In fact, it contains no additives or coloring agents. It’s often referred to as “the purest form of Scotch” because it doesn’t contain any additives.

Blended Scotch

This type of Scotch is made up of several single malts. Every single malt contributes its unique characteristics to the blend. For example, Glenfiddich is known for its sweet peaty flavors, while Balvenie is famous for its smoky flavors.

Single Grain Scotch

The production of single-grain Scotch whiskey involves the use of water, malted barley, and whole grains of either malted or unmalted cereals. They also add malted barley. The process only takes place at a single distillery.

Blended Grain Scotch

This type of scotch is made by combining two or more single malts. Each malt is distilled separately and then blended together. For example, Glenkinchie is a popular blended grain Scotch.

Blended Scotch Whiskey

Blended scotch is a mixture of grain and malt scotch distilled in multiple locations. This kind of scotch is usually bottled straight after blending.

Examples of scotch

There are wide varieties of scotch, but here are some of the most common ones:

The Macallan

The Macallan is a corporate favorite that brings out over two centuries of creativity and knowledge. The results are as near to flawless smoothness and balance as top-shelf Scotch whisky can go, but don’t expect to be overwhelmed with flavors.

Bunnahabhain

In 1881, Bunnahabhain entered the game and released a few fundamental opinions. This is good, and sometimes exceptional, Scotch. You could even assume one of the label’s more costly releases is the greatest Scotch. 

They balance the richness of the sherry barrel with a beautiful salty flavor, making this Scotch complex.

Johnnie Walker

What began as a moonshine whisky enterprise for John Walker grew into a global powerhouse. Formed in 1820, the company released its first marketable mix in 1865. 

Walker’s sons pushed the legendary brand to new heights with premium blends, inventive Scotch bottle designs, astute business procedures, and ingenious marketing. 

Johnnie Walker Blue, at the top of the list, is maybe the smoothest whisky we’ve ever tasted.

Balvenie

With just a trace of smoke, this Scotch delivers creamy and traditional aromas of fruit and grain. Of all, it’s just one of many delicious liquors in this famous business, which isn’t afraid to experiment.

Glen Moray

People frequently ignore Glen Moray 18-Year-Old because of its low price; as a result, many people believe it isn’t very excellent! However, it’s one of the greatest single malts you can get for a reasonable rate.

Glen Moray established the distillery in 1897, located in one of Scotland’s oldest towns. It has also been producing high-quality single malts on the banks of River Lossie for over 120 years.

The process is driven by devotion, and the final whisky has an unmistakable sense of proportion and consistency.

What is Whiskey?

Whiskey (sometimes written whisky) is an amber-colored, fermented grain-based distilled alcohol (most often wheat, corn, rye, or barley).

Before bottling, most whiskeys are matured in hardwood casks and contain at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). Several sorts of whiskey are often characterized by their region of origin, grain types, blending procedure, or age.

Even though each type of whiskey tastes different, the spirit is often said to be toasty, caramelly, spicy, sweet, or warm.

There are wide varieties of whiskeys available today. The differences range from the place of origin to the types of grain used, aging, and blending process. We’ll look at the nine major types of whiskeys below:

Bourbon whiskey

Bourbon is an American-made whiskey that is usually, but not always, made in Kentucky. Its grain mix or mash bill contains at least 51% corn.

As long as it is an American-made whiskey, bourbon must be matured in newly charred oak barrels, giving it its distinctive taste notes of nuts and caramelized sweetness.

Tennessee whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is a type of Bourbon. Before aging, distillers filter the whiskey using sugar maple charcoal. This filtering technique, known as the Lincoln County Process, infuses Tennessee Whiskey with its distinctive flavor.

Single-malt whiskey

A single-malt whiskey is a type of whiskey produced at a single distillery and only uses one variety of malted grain. A single-malt bottle might contain whiskey from multiple separate barrels unless it’s a single-cask whiskey.

Rye whiskey

You know a Rye whiskey if the mash bill contains at least 51% rye. Rye, like bourbon, must be matured in freshly charred oak barrels if it is made in the United States. Rye whiskey is characterized by a peppery tingle that sets it apart from other types of whiskey.

Irish whiskey

To qualify as Irish whiskey, Distillers must manufacture a spirit from malt, cereal grain, and barley, distilled, matured, and bottled in Ireland. Irish whiskey must also age for at least three years in oak barrels. Irish whiskey’s malty flavor is most evident when matured in unconventional containers like sherry barrels or rum casks.

Scotch whisky

Distillation, aging, and bottling of Scotch must all occur in Scotland. Following Scottish law, scotch must spend at least three years maturing in wood barrels before being sold. 

There are five regions in Scotland where malt whiskey is historically made: the Lowlands, the Highlands, Campbeltown, Islay, and Speyside. The smokey flavor of Scotch comes from the use of peat, a type of thick moss that is burned to dry the malted barley used in the distilling process. 

Blended scotch is your best pick for most drinks unless a specific scotch by manufacturer or type is specified in the recipe. Opt for a single-malt variety if you prefer to sip your scotch neat or on the rocks.

Canadian whisky

If you want to call anything “Canadian whiskey,” you need to ensure it’s made and matured in Canada and has a minimum of 40% ABV. There is a wide range of flavor profiles possible with Canadian whiskey due to the use of various flavorings and additions, including caramel.

Japanese whisky

Japan bottles whisky but doesn’t distill or age it. Some Japanese whiskey is often compared to Scotch, while others harness the distinctive attributes of Japanese wood.

Blended whiskey

Blended whiskey is a concoction made up of many distinct whiskies, some of which may have come from separate distilleries.

Examples of Whiskey

You’ll find whiskeys in every price range and style. Here are just a few examples:

Redbreast 12-year

These special barrels impart a delicious scent and a rich flavor to the whiskey, with notes of sherry, fruit, and cream. 

Since 1857, they’ve been making lush bottles of the world’s best-selling single-pot whiskey. I should savor this whiskey neat or on the rocks, like other high-quality whiskeys.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10-Year

In 2019, this whiskey was named “Best in Show Whiskey,” one of the greatest accolades a brand can get. Henry Mckenna is a product of the Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky, which is recognized for its many award-winning whiskeys.

Although this bottle of Mckenna originates from a single barrel of whiskey that has been matured for ten years, the whiskey isn’t too pricey.

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Year

They have reduced the sharpness in this Glenfiddich 21-Year Gran Reserva, allowing you to appreciate the whisky’s delicate characteristics fully.

They age the single malt in Caribbean rum barrels, giving it distinct notes of banana, spicy toffee, and other fruits. 

You’re also getting to know one of the world’s most iconic whiskey brands with the Gran Reserva. Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling single-malt whisky, having been around since 1887.

Jefferson’s Bourbon

Many whiskey distilleries dabble with fresh woods, combinations, and aging techniques. The taste characteristic of this whiskey is created by exposing it to temperature changes and salty air. 

This wild maturing procedure produces a one-of-a-kind, nuanced whiskey. More wood tannin extraction provides scents of vanilla and caramel, but the saline of the ocean air is apparent.

1856 Uncle Nearest

Uncle Nearest 1856 has an interesting backstory to match its exceptional flavor. It is a Black-owned company founded in 2017 and recognized Green’s significance in American liquor. 

The whiskey is flowery, fruity, and exceptionally smooth. The whiskey community has praised its fruity, flowery, and incredibly smooth taste, giving it top grades all over. 

Conclusion 

So, what’s the difference between Scotch and Whisky? While both spirits have their own unique tastes and flavors, there are still a number of commonalities. 

Whiskey and Scotch are spirits that bring people together. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy them. Just choose your favorite type of whiskey and drink responsibly!

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