Scotch vs Bourbon: Difference and Comparison

Scotch is whisky made in Scotland, aged in oak barrels, known for its diverse flavors influenced by regions like Islay or Speyside. Bourbon is an American whiskey, mainly from Kentucky, featuring a sweeter profile due to its corn-based mash, aged in new charred oak barrels, and must meet specific criteria, including at least 51% corn content. The distinction lies in geography, ingredients, and production regulations, shaping their distinct characteristics.

Key Takeaways

  1. Scotch is a type of whiskey produced in Scotland, made primarily from malted barley, and aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels, with distinct flavors influenced by regional variations and production methods.
  2. Bourbon is a specific American whiskey, primarily produced in Kentucky, made from at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels, imparting unique characteristics and a sweeter flavor profile.
  3. The main distinction between Scotch and Bourbon is their regional origin, ingredients, and production requirements. Scotch is a malted barley-based whiskey from Scotland, and Bourbon is a corn-based whiskey from the United States.

Scotch vs Bourbon

The difference between Scotch and Bourbon is that Scotch is a whiskey that is made mainly from malted barley and made in Scotland, while Bourbon is whiskey distilled from corn and made in the U.S.A, normally Kentucky.

Scotch vs Bourbon

However, the abv is not the only difference. A comparison between both the terms on certain parameters can shed light on subtle aspects:


Comparison Table

Grain(s) UsedPrimarily malted barley (sometimes unmalted barley, wheat, rye)Must be at least 51% corn, other grains like rye, wheat, malted barley can be used
OriginMust be produced in ScotlandMust be produced in the United States
AgingMust be aged for at least 3 years in oak casksMust be aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least 2 years
Flavor ProfileGenerally malty, smoky, peaty, fruity, herbal (depending on region and cask type)Sweet, caramelized, vanilla, oaky, spicy (depending on mash bill and age)
Production ProcessMore diverse, can include double distillation, triple distillation, peating of malt, various cask typesStandardized, single distillation required, no peating allowed
Typical ExamplesSingle Malt Scotch, Blended Scotch, Speyside Scotch, Islay ScotchKentucky Straight Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye Whiskey (if at least 51% corn)
Typical Price RangeGenerally more expensive due to longer aging and regulationsVaries depending on brand and age


What is Scotch?

Scotch whisky, referred to simply as “Scotch,” is a distinctive and internationally renowned spirit originating from Scotland. Its production is governed by strict regulations to ensure quality and authenticity.

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Ingredients and Mash

  1. Grains: Scotch whisky can be made from a variety of grains, including malted barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Single malt Scotch is produced solely from malted barley.
  2. Water: Scotland’s abundant natural water sources play a crucial role in Scotch production, influencing the final flavor profile.

Production Process

  1. Malting: Barley is soaked in water, allowed to germinate, and then dried with hot air. This process activates enzymes, converting starches into fermentable sugars.
  2. Mashing: The malted barley is ground into a coarse powder, mixed with hot water to extract fermentable sugars, and create a sugary liquid known as wort.
  3. Fermentation: Yeast is added to the wort, leading to fermentation, during which sugars transform into alcohol. The result is a liquid called “wash” with low alcohol content.
  4. Distillation: The wash undergoes distillation in copper pot stills. The distillation process, done twice, separates alcohol from impurities, yielding a high-proof spirit.


  1. Cask Selection: Scotch must mature in oak casks. The choice of cask, whether previously used for sherry, bourbon, or other spirits, contributes to the final flavor.
  2. Aging: Scotch matures in casks for a minimum of three years. Some premium Scotch whiskies age for much longer, developing complex flavors and aromas.

Regional Variations

  1. Islay: Known for peaty and smoky flavors, with distilleries like Laphroaig and Ardbeg.
  2. Speyside: Recognized for a wide range of flavors, from fruity and floral to rich and robust. Famous distilleries include Glenfiddich and Macallan.
  3. Highlands, Lowlands, and Others: Each region imparts unique characteristics to the whisky, influencing its taste, aroma, and overall profile.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that has gained widespread popularity for its distinct flavor profile and production standards. Here is an in-depth look at the key aspects of bourbon.

Definition and Legal Requirements

  1. Composition: Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn. The remaining percentage can include other grains like barley, rye, and wheat.
  2. Distillation: Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
  3. Barrel Aging: It must be aged in new charred oak barrels. There is no specific duration required for aging to be considered bourbon, but to be labeled as “straight” bourbon, it must be aged for at least four years.

Geographic Origin

  1. Kentucky Connection: While bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, there is a strong historical association with Kentucky. Many renowned bourbon distilleries are located in the state, contributing to the perception that true bourbon comes from Kentucky.
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Flavor Profile

  1. Sweet and Full-bodied: Bourbon is known for its sweet and full-bodied flavor profile, attributed to the predominant use of corn in the mash bill. This sweetness is complemented by the aging process in new charred oak barrels, which imparts additional flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and sometimes a hint of smokiness.

Popular Brands and Varieties

  1. Notable Brands: Several well-known bourbon brands include Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey, each with its unique expression and fan base.
  2. Single Barrel vs. Small Batch: Bourbon enthusiasts may encounter terms like “single barrel” or “small batch.” Single barrel bourbon comes from one specific barrel, providing a unique and more intense flavor. Small batch bourbon is a blend of a relatively small number of carefully selected barrels, offering a balance of flavors.

Main Differences Between Scotch and Bourbon

  • Origin:
    • Scotch: Produced in Scotland.
    • Bourbon: Primarily associated with the United States, with a historical connection to Kentucky.
  • Grain Composition:
    • Scotch: Typically made from malted barley; may include other grains.
    • Bourbon: Must be made from a mash that is at least 51% corn, with the remainder being other grains like barley, rye, or wheat.
  • Barrel Aging:
    • Scotch: Aged in used oak barrels, from previous bourbon aging.
    • Bourbon: Must be aged in new charred oak barrels.
  • Geographic Influence:
    • Scotch: Different regions (e.g., Islay, Speyside) contribute diverse flavor profiles.
    • Bourbon: While it can be produced anywhere in the U.S., Kentucky is particularly associated with bourbon production.
  • Flavor Profile:
    • Scotch: Varied flavors, including peaty, smoky, fruity, and malty notes.
    • Bourbon: Sweet and full-bodied, with flavors like vanilla, caramel, and sometimes a hint of smokiness from the charred barrels.
  • Regulatory Requirements:
    • Scotch: Governed by strict regulations in Scotland.
    • Bourbon: Subject to specific legal requirements in the United States, including grain composition, distillation proof, and barrel aging.
  • Aging Duration:
    • Scotch: No specific aging duration requirement, but some types must meet minimum age criteria.
    • Bourbon: To be labeled as “straight” bourbon, it must be aged for at least four years.
  • Popular Brands:
    • Scotch: Famous brands include Glenfiddich, Lagavulin, and Macallan.
    • Bourbon: Well-known brands include Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey.
  • Terminology:
    • Scotch: Single malt, blended malt, single grain, blended grain, blended Scotch.
    • Bourbon: Single barrel, small batch, straight bourbon.
  • Cultural Associations:
    • Scotch: Often associated with tradition, heritage, and a diverse range of regional expressions.
    • Bourbon: Linked to American history, frontier culture, and a sense of craftsmanship.
Difference Between Scotch and Bourbon

Last Updated : 13 February, 2024

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