Food & Drinks

Scotch Vs Bourbon: The Real Difference Between Dark Spirits

Scotch Vs Bourbon: The Real Difference Between Dark Spirits

Consuming alcohol can be so much more enjoyable once you learn to appreciate the flavors involved. It is a global passion; whiskey finds its origin from an Irish phrase that translates to “water of life.”

To people who aren’t well-versed with whiskey, it may seem like scotch and bourbon are essentially dark spirits prepared identically. In fact, while these beverages have some common ground, their preparation and flavors are quite unique. Here’s a comparison of scotch vs bourbon to understand both of these beverages better.

Scotch Whiskey


The earliest mention of scotch traces back to the 15th century, being distilled by a friar named John Cor. Scotch is whisky made in Scotland. It is usually made from barley, although sometimes it is made using other malted grains as well.

Scotch is divided into five different types, namely single malt, blended malt, blended grain, single grain, and blended scotch whisky. When referring to scotch, whisky is almost always spelled without the “e.”

Known for their long aging processes and unique taste, scotches are some of the most expensive liquor ever sold.

Interestingly, scotch is a by-product of bourbon as barley malts are used in its aging and fermentation process. Given its dynamic taste profile, scotch is quite the hit amongst youngsters and older people.

Bourbon Whiskey


The name “bourbon” is said to be derived from Bourbon County, Kentucky, while some also say that it comes from the name of a street in New Orleans.

Although the state of Kentucky is the place where most Bourbon is produced, it is not a must that Bourbon be solely produced in Kentucky. It is, however, preferred because of the abundant availability of limestone water that helps filter out impurities like iron from the bourbon.

To those who are not familiar with brown spirits, it might not seem like there is any difference between bourbon and other whiskeys. While bourbon is a type of whiskey, not all whiskeys are bourbons.

What makes bourbon different is the type of grain used in its brewing process. Bourbon is made from a mixture of grains that is at least 51% corn.

Compared to scotch, bourbon is a little sweeter because there is an amalgamation of numerous barleys and grains to produce said flavor. Since it is bound by the conventions of being produced in the US in new oak barrels, it may not be as nuanced as scotch.

5 Main Differences Between Scotch and Bourbon

Main Differences

There are a few notable factors that make both scotch and bourbon unique beverages with their own loyal following. The distinctions between scotch vs bourbon are as follows:

#1. Ingredients Used in Their Fermentation Process

While scotch is made from malted barley, bourbon is made from a mixture of grains, the only rule being that the mixture should be at least 51% corn. Wheat and whole grains are used to enhance flavor and color in scotch whisky.

When it comes to bourbon, a mixture of wheat, barley, and rye is used along with the corn to add layered flavors to the bourbon.

Peat, the fuel used to dry the malted barley, also provides a rather unique, smoky flavor to scotch. This is also called peatiness.

#2. Flavor Differences

Depending on the ingredients used, the type of barrels they are aged in, and the number of years they are aged for, both scotch and bourbon can have very different flavors.

Bourbon is expected to have sweeter notes because of the corn used in their production. There are hints of dessert-like flavors such as caramel, praline, and vanilla. Bourbon also has a notable oaky finish because of the oak barrels they are aged in.

Scotch, on the other hand, has an intense smokey flavor due to the peat used for processing the barley. Depending on the region where it is produced, the intensity of the peatiness varies.

#3. Nutritional Comparison

Scotch and bourbon are quite similar in terms of their nutritional value. As they are both distilled spirits, they contain about 105 calories in a 1.5-ounce drink.

Studies have shown that both scotch and bourbon have a high concentration of antioxidants that are good for your body. When consumed in very limited quantities, both can reduce uric acid levels, risk of heart disease, and increase brain health.

In another study, moderate consumption of scotch has even been shown to prevent diseases like dementia.

#4. Aging Process

Given how bourbon is exclusively aged only in new oak barrels, there is practically no use for the barrels later. These are bought by the scotch distillers who use it to age their whisky inside the casks. Scotch can even be aged inside casks that were previously used for port, wine, and even cognac.

Bourbon matures more rapidly than scotch, as it is produced in the hot Kentucky weather. The evaporation also happens a lot faster. To make straight bourbon, it only needs to be aged for about two years or less, considering a lack of added colors and flavors.

The longer the bourbon sits in the cask, the lower its yield and the higher the cost.

For scotch, a minimum of three years of aging in oak casks is necessary for it to have nuanced flavors. These spirits will be found on shelves anywhere after 12-35 years of resting in barrels.

#5. ABV Requirements

The Alcohol By Volume (ABV) measurement of a beverage lets you know its intoxication level.

Bourbon is usually distilled to somewhere around 130-135 proof, which is low enough to provide an ABV of 65%-67.5%. The maximum legal proof for bourbon aged in barrels is 125 proof, so it is reduced to this level.

The flavors in the distillate, coupled with the humid Kentucky climate, provides for vanilla and caramel flavored whiskey.

Scotch is supposed to have less than a 94.8% ABV rating. It is distilled twice to produce a delicate spirit, averaging at around 70% ABV.

Which One Is Better?

Which One Is Better

To decide which alcoholic beverage between scotch vs bourbon works best for you, there are two things to take into consideration: your personal taste and the occasion for which the beverage is consumed.

Given the numerous factors involved in making scotch, there are low-end and high-end scotches available. The latter is more expensive and tastes as good as your run-of-the-mill bourbon. Budget-wise, it is the bourbon that wins the scotch vs bourbon battle.

While scotch is being manufactured, the barley and grains are meticulously administered to ensure a consistent, smooth taste that caters to refined palettes. So, you’ve got variety in scotch, but you’ll notice that bourbon is rarely consumed neat in bars and is highly preferred as a mixer.

Unless you’re fond of specific brands of bourbon, it is more likely that you are someone who prefers scotch. Make sure to try cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, mint julep, John Collins, and the Whiskey Sour.

About Author

Priscilla Dreher

Known for her travel blogs, Priscilla Dreher started out as sociologist in her career only to combine her love for writing with her penchant for philanthropy in the later years. A widely traveled author, Dreher has championed many human rights causes and continues to advocate for socio-political inclusivity in all her writing.