Bourbon vs Scotch: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a liquor drinker or coinsurer of fine booze, you’ve definitely tried both Bourbon and Scotch before. Scotch and Bourbon are very similar forms of whiskey that have origins dating back beyond the modern age that we live in today.

Depending on the type of activities that you like to get involved with, certain scotch and bourbon options may be better suited for your particular taste in liquor then when compares to others.

There are several factors that play a huge role in determining what makes a bourbon a bourbon and what makes a scotch a scotch so it’s important for you to keep this in mind while out shopping for the right bourbon or scotch option that suits your drinking tastes.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the various types of bourbon and scotch choices available on the market so it’s really important that you understand the vital difference between each of them in order to make the right purchase decision when it comes to which bourbon or scotch selection is right for you.

When it comes to distinguishing between a bourbon or scotch, there are some very simple elements that you have to look at in order to decide what category a particular bourbon or scotch brand should be implanted into.

Both scotch and bourbon are made from whiskey so both of their alcoholic and chemical compositions are closely related to one another. In order to better understand the difference between bourbon and scotch, you’ll have to get a better understanding of whiskey.

alcohol fermentation

Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is created using grain mush (or grain mash) which is then fermented in a special way depending on the type of desired alcohol that is being produced.

The great thing about bourbon and scotch alcohol varieties is that you can make them using any type of whiskey that you choose, this adds more dimensions to the overall flavor profile and taste of your selected bourbon or scotch so it’s important to know about all of the various types of whiskey available out there for purchase on the market.

Many countries such as Japan, Australia, Europe, and Scotland have their very own unique bourbon and scotch varieties that they enjoy on various occasions such as holidays and other festive gatherings. 

Each type of bourbon and scotch variety will have its own unique and distinct taste notes and undertones so it’s important to keep this in mind when shopping for the right bourbon or scotch variety is best for you.

To begin with, in order for an alcohol variety to be considered a whiskey, it must be distilled to at least 40% minimum alcohol content and a maximum of 94.8% alcohol content. The amount of alcohol contained in your chosen bourbon or scotch type will be displayed in a unit of (ABV) which means alcohol by volume.

If you’ve been trying to find the right bourbon or scotch variety for your taste buds, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’re going to go over all of the essential elements and factors that you must consider before finalizing your purchase on any particular wine type or variety.

We’ll go over every aspect of choosing the right bourbon or scotch option out on the market so that you can ensure you’re choosing a variety that has the right kind of flavor and taste you like.

Below, we’re going to cover the main differences between scotch and bourbon to help you better understand exactly what they are.

Main Difference Between Bourbon vs Scotch

The main differences between bourbon vs scotch are:

  • Bourbon is made from a mixture of grains, whereas scotch is made mainly from malted barley.
  • Bourbon has a sweeter taste, whereas scotch has a more intense smokiness.
  • Bourbon is bottled at no less than  (40 ABV), whereas scotch is bottled at (60% – 75 % ABV)

Scotch vs Bourbon Fermentation Process Ingredients

The production of bourbon and scotch is heavily regulated throughout the United States which ensures that you’re only getting the highest quality alcohol when you decide to purchase a bourbon or scotch.

In order for an alcoholic beverage to be approved as a bourbon, it must be fermented using a grain mix that is composed of at least 51% corn.

Many companies who produce bourbon alcoholic beverages accomplish this by simply combining rye, wheat, and barley into one pot in order to create the perfect brew for their bourbon or scotch variety.

In order for an alcoholic drink to be considered a scotch, it must be made using malted barley which is typically the primary ingredient used in the fermentation and creation of scotch alcohol varieties.

Scotch alcoholic beverages also commonly use ingredients such as yeast and water to encapsulate the overall flavors of the grain used. Scotch alcohol producers and manufacturers are also allowed to add whole cereal grains to their scotch alcohol varieties in order to add more color and character to the liquor.

Scotch vs Bourbon Taste & Flavor Differences

glass of whiskey

The most notable difference that you will find in any bourbon or scotch variety is going to be the flavor.

Flavors between bourbons and scotch alcohol varieties will vary significantly depending on the type of ingredients such as grains and other products used during the fermentation and cultivation process.

Both bourbon and scotch are known to have very charred and Smokey flavors to them however the method in which these flavors are accomplished differs dramatically.

Bourbon typically has a very oaky vanilla taste to it that is largely derived from the barrels in which the alcohol is fermented, stored, aged, and produced.

Scotch alcohol on the other hand largely gets its flavor and taste from the peat which is burned during the barley malting process involved with making scotch alcohol.

Flavors can vary when it comes to scotch whisky because not all regions use pear during the barley malting process, so it’s important to keep this in mind if you plan on enjoying a glass of scotch whisky anytime soon.

Bourbon vs Scotch Regions

Both bourbon and scotch whisky have prominence if varying regions and locations from across the world.

While there are some strict regulations regarding alcohol classification, you can pretty much find bourbon and scotch whisky varieties anywhere in the world however when it comes to tradition, it’s best to stick to the place of origin if you’re concerned about the alcohol being the “Real deal.”

Technically, in order for a whiskey variety to be considered a “scotch”, it must be fermented and made in Scotland, on the contrary, many people have placed the stigma of Kentucky on bourbon however you can find many bourbon options that are produced outside of Kentucky.

Within Scotland there are also different Scotch making regions, so you may hear of terms like Speyside or Highlands in reference to specific scotch making regions.

Keep in mind that in order for alcohol to be considered a bourbon, it must be produced and fermented inside of the United States.

Bourbon vs Scotch Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

Probably one of the most important factors to keep in mind when selecting any bourbon or scotch whisky type is its alcoholic content by volume.

The alcoholic content by volume indicator on the bourbon or scotch bottle that you choose will help you determine how intoxicating any given bourbon or scotch whisky variety is.

In order for alcohol to be qualified and considered as either bourbon or scotch, it must meet specific ABV or alcohol by volume content measurements before going out on the market.

Both scotch and bourbon have very different distillation requirements and alcohol by volume levels so it’s important to remember this when you’re out shopping for the right scotch or bourbon variety to suit your taste buds and flavor profile.

Bourbon typically has to be distilled to no more than 80% ABV which is 160 proof and it can’t be more than 62.5% ABV during the aging process. Scotch whisky, on the other hand, must have an ABV rating of less than 94.8% and it is typically aged in used oak barrels which have retained a lot of unique flavors over the years after being used to ferment several different types of alcohol types and contents.

It’s important to remember the various distillation levels and fermentation processes used in making both bourbon and scotch whisky so that you can ensure you’re choosing the right alcohol type for your particular taste needs and wants.

Bourbon vs Scotch Aging Process

bourbon glass

The aging process is probably the most important factor that will determine the overall flavor of your selected bourbon or scotch whisky choice. Both bourbon and scotch use very different aging processes which add to their overall unique flavors and undertones.

Many manufacturers who make regular bourbon have no required aging limit in order to produce bourbon. However, if a company wants their bourbon to be classified as “straight bourbon” they must age the bourbon for no less than 2yrs and it cannot contain any added spirits, flavors, or colors.

Scotch, on the other hand, must be aged for a minimum of 3yrs however there are still various scotch classifications similar to bourbon classifications that are out there. A great example of this would be single malt scotch which is a scotch whisky that is made using malted barley in pot stills in a single distillery.

Blended scotch whisky is produced by combining various malts with whiskey varieties in column stills. The location in which the alcohol is being fermented will also play a huge factor in determining how long it should be aged and what process should be used during the aging process.

Is scotch better than bourbon?

When it comes to deciding on whether you should choose bourbon or scotch whisky or which one is better, there really is no simple answer to that question.

Both bourbon and scotch whisky offer varying tastes, flavors, and variety in terms of how they’re produced and these factors will play a key role in helping you choose the right bourbon or scotch whisky type for your next event or outing.

Single malt scotch whisky is mostly known for its peaty flavor and robust taste profile and many people prefer scotch over bourbon.

The funny thing about this is that scotch is actually in a sense a byproduct of bourbon given the predominant use of barley malts in its fermentation and aging process. Bourbon is generally known to have more of a sweet taste when compared to scotch which is why hardcore alcohol enthusiasts generally prefer scotch whisky over bourbon.

The grains and barley used in the manufacturing process of scotch whisky are tightly controlled giving it a much more smooth and consistent taste when compared to bourbon.

Bourbon whiskey tends to use the implementation of various different grain types and barleys all of which add their own unique taste and overall flavor to the whiskey type in question.

Scotch Whiskey Ingredients

  • Wheat
  • Unmalted Barley
  • 100% malted barley
  • Whole Grain

Bourbon Whiskey Ingredients

  • 51% Corn
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Wheat

There is no scientific way to measure whether or not scotch whisky is “better” than bourbon whiskey so that will be a decision that you’ll have to make on your own.

One thing that can be proven with research is the type of ingredients used in the production of these various whiskey types which is why we listed them all above. You can determine whether or not a whiskey type is right for you by simply looking at the ingredients listed on the bottle.

All in all, both bourbon and scotch whisky is wonderful alcoholic drinks that provide varying flavors and tastes for you to indulge in.

Alternatives to Bourbon & Scotch Whisky

pouring whiskey

Regular bourbon and scotch whisky aren’t the only types of whiskey options out on the market.

There are several other types of bourbon and scotch whiskey products out on the market that you can choose from all across the world. Below, we’re going to cover some of the most popular alternatives to bourbon and scotch whiskey so that you aren’t limited to a certain type of kind of alcoholic beverage.

Tennessee Whiskey

Many people over the years have assumed that Tennessee whiskey is simply bourbon with a fancy title slapped on top of it however that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Tennessee whiskey differs greatly from regular bourbon due to the filtration process used in its manufacturing and production process.

Tennessee whiskey is produced by a method known as charcoal steeping which basically filters out any unwanted toxins or byproducts from the whiskey before it hits the shelves. This is an important piece of information to remember if you plan on buying tense whiskey anytime soon.

Canadian Whiskey

When people hear the term Canadian whiskey, they are oftentimes hit by surprise because whiskey is not commonly known nor has it been known to be produced in regions of Canada.

Because of this, Canadian whiskey tends to lack the hefty and large taste that you will find with many bourbon and scotch whisky varieties produced in the United States.

Canadian whiskey is a lot smoother and lighter than most If not all US whiskey types. Canadian whiskey is also generally made using a variety of different grains and other sorts of mixes such as corn, rye, and more.

Some of the most popular types of Canadian whiskey is Crown Royal, Canadian Mist, and Canadian Club. If you want a lighter and more robust bourbon whiskey option, the Canadian whiskey is the perfect choice for you.

Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey differs from most whiskey options that are out on the market due to the method in which it’s created and produced.

Irish whiskey is running through three different distillation rounds before it is considered finished so it’s important to remember this when you begin looking for the right Irish whiskey option that will fit your specific needs.

Irish whiskey is fermented using a lot of barley byproducts which don’t add the signature Smokey and burnt-rubber taste that you will find in many if not all bourbon types.

Irish whiskey is also fermented using peat which is basically decayed vegetables, in order for an Irish whiskey to be considered an Irish whiskey, it must be aged in Ireland for 3yrs in order to qualify as an Irish whiskey variety. Irish whiskey has a very smooth and less sweet taste as when compared to traditional American bourbon types and varieties.

Japanese Whiskey

Japanese Whiskey takes pages from both Canadian and Scottish whiskey types however it adds a really unique treat to the entire equation.

The first master of Japanese distillery was known as Masataka Taketsuru and he studied in Scotland which has largely influenced Japanese whiskey varieties from all across the world.

Some of the most well-known Japanese Whiskey manufacturers are Nikka and Suntory both of which have risen to fame in recent years. While Japanese Whiskey differs in terms of the flavors and tastes used, it is generally considered a Scottish based type of whiskey recipe.

As you can see, whiskey is a pretty universal alcoholic beverage that people from all around the world enjoy on a regular basis.

By now, you should be pretty familiar with the various types of bourbons and whiskey options available on the market, now, it’s time to help you find the right bourbon or scotch whisky option that will go perfectly with your desired meal or any other type of arrangements.

While the elements used in the production of whiskey are typically very small and seemingly insignificant, they will play a major role in how your selected whiskey variety tastes and hits your tongue. In the following section, we’re going to list some of the best whiskey options out there for you to choose from so that you can enjoy a cold glass anytime you want.

Top Bourbon Recommendations for Whiskey Drinkers

This section is going to contain all of our favorite and top American whiskey recommendations varying in terms of how much alcohol content they contain and the process used in their production and fermentation.

Make sure that you read each recommendation in full so that you can be sure that you’re making the right decision when it comes to the perfect bourbon or scotch whisky that fits your particular taste buds.

By using the list below, you’ll be able to avoid wasting money on whiskey options that you won’t like or varieties that simply don’t meet your standards in terms of taste and flavor.

Read this entire section in full so that you can be sure that you’re choosing the appropriate bourbon or scotch option to fulfill your taste requirements.

1. Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Whisky

Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Whisky is a very specially crafted bourbon whiskey that uses iconic flavors and signature notes from the ghost distilleries in order to provide a smooth and premium tasting drink.

Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Whisky uses very precious casks that are exclusive to the ghost distilleries which give the bourbon an added volume and overall bold taste that you won’t find in many other bourbon whiskey options available on the market.

Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Whisky uses a variety of carefully selected liquid formulas that provide a very refreshing yet deep and robust flavor profile to the bourbon overall.

Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Port Ellen Whisky uses very exclusive malts and grains in order to create the perfectly blended bourbon option that many people all around the world love to consume. 

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen | Drizly

Scotch Whisky / Scotland

For Johnnie Walker's Master Blender, Dr. Jim Beveridge, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare series is an exciting exploration of flavor. 

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2. E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey

 E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey is a very dry and bold yet flavorful and robust bourbon option produced by the well-respected E.H. Taylor distilleries which guarantee the quality of their work.

E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey combines the perfect blend of whole grains and rye malts that add a very light yet full-bodied aspect to the bourbon overall.

If you’re looking for a premium bourbon selection, E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey is the perfect selection due to its prime fermentation, and the production process can be tasted through the entire body of this bourbon which is what makes it such a powerful and popular option with many people.

E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey is made in Kentucky which is widely considered to be the home of many types of bourbons out on the market.

The location and climate that E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey bourbon is produced in making the perfect combination of robust flavors and undertones which are the very elements that make this bourbon option stand out amongst the crowd.

E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey has a very licorice and butterscotch taste to it largely because of the type of grains and wheat products used during the production process.

E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey bourbon also has a touch of caramel-corn because it uses caramel during its production process.

Once tasting E.H. Taylor Straight Rye whiskey you’ll notice that the blend also has undertones of tobacco and spice which adds another layer to the overall composition of this alcoholic beverage. 

E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye Whiskey | Drizly

Whiskey /50% ABV / Kentucky, United States

This small batch, Bottled-in-Bond 100 proof straight rye whiskey pays tribute to the former Distillery owner with a unique rye whiskey reminiscent of days long past.

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Top Scotch Recommendations for Whiskey Drinkers

 1. The Dalmore

dalmore 15 years old


The Dalmore is a very spicy and tangy scotch blend that has notes of orange and a variety of different organic spices. The Dalmore scotch whisky is aged for 15yrs before being released on the market so all of the flavors are really integrated into the overall mix of liquids.

The Dalmore has a very concentrated citrus flavor that will stay in your mouth for a very long time to take this into consideration before picking up a bottle. The Dalmore scotch whisky is aged in three separate stages to further accentuate and bring out any hidden flavors that may be within the blend.

The Dalmore comes with an ABV rating of 40% so it’s a fairly powerful mix of scotch whisky.

The Dalmore scotch whiskey has a very rich overall body to it and provides a very sophisticated and crisp [ taste to anyone that is interested in having a refreshing glass of scotch whisky that’s made with premium ingredients. 

The Dalmore 15 Year | Drizly

Scotch Whisky /40% ABV / Scotland 

The character of The Dalmore 15 is achieved by then splitting the whisky equally between three different sherry woods; Amoroso, Apostoles and Matusalem oloroso for a further three years.

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 2. Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky


Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky is a very popular single malt scotch whisky that is known in Japan.

Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky has a rich and experienced taste that is suited for those who take their whiskey seriously, Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky is made in the famous Suntory distilleries which have gained prominence in Japan over the recent years.

Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky is crafted with the finest coconut and it contains just a slight hint of cinnamon to give its overall flavor profile a boost.

Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky is used in a lot of Japanese cocktail recipes which is what makes it such a robust and unique scotch whisky option.

Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky has a very sweet yet soft body that is easy on the tongue and great-tasting making you want to come back for more.

Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky has a lot of history in Japan and if you’re interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, you can pick up a bottle of Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky as your local liquor store anywhere across the world.

Yamazaki 12 Year Old Whisky | Drizly

Whiskey /43% ABV / Japan

The Yamazaki 12 Year is considered the nation's premier single malt whisky, but it's safe to say that whisky fans around the globe appreciate this award-winning spirit.

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FAQs About Scotch vs Bourbon

How do you drink scotch?

Scotch is originally served with a spring water which releases all the flavors in a glass, and its strictly recommended not to use tap water which will interfere with the tasting notes of it.

How do you drink bourbon?

Unlike scotch, bourbon should be consumed at a room temperature without adding any ice or water to release the tasting notes.

What is the smoothest Scotch?

The smoothest Scotch (Auchentoshan 1978) comes from the Auchentoshan Distillery and it’s created by refugees back in 1825 in Glasgow. This selection is bottled in 1997, and it has a taste of oak, dried fruit, nuts and vanilla and a single bottle can cost around $400.

What makes it a bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that must contain at least 51% of corn mash, and it has to be distilled at 160 proof or less, in order to be called a bourbon. Also, when done with the distilation process, it has to be stored at new charred oak barels that haven’t been used before and that don’t contain any additional igredients in.

Conclusion on Bourbon versus Scotch

All of the information in this article will help ensure that you make the right decision about which type of whiskey variety is best for your consumption regardless of the occasion or event.

As long as you use all of the tips and tricks listed in this guide, you should have no problems finding the right type of whiskey that will complement virtually any type of food item or another type of arrangement that you have set in place.

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