Whisky, scotch and bourbon: Which one is better?

glass of whisky on a table with the bottle behind it

When it comes to whisky, scotch and bourbon, there are a lot of different types, brands and variations to choose from. But what's the difference between the three? And what's the best way to enjoy them? I’m pretty sure all the whisky pros just snuffled at that question, but to those venturing into the wild world of whisky for the first time, I’m sure you’re eager to find out.

If you're like most new to this spirit, you want to get into whisky but don't know where to start. It can be tough to decide what's right for you. And I'll be honest, the first sip will probably hit you like a disgusting slap in the face. But like trying any form of alcohol for the first time, you'll eventually start to appreciate it. Whisky enthusiasts encourage newcomers to experiment with different brands and types of whisky to find the one that best suits their taste buds.

Whisky Is Everything

Whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, made of charred white oak. This gentlemen's beverage is a broad category of beverages that includes scotch, bourbon, and other varieties. So, in other words scotch and bourbon are types of whiskies that are produced with a slightly different process.

We will be looking at scotch and bourbon in particularly but its important to note that there are many more types of Whisky’s around the world.  Categories of Whisky can include rye, Irish and Japanese just to name a few.

So is it whisky or whiskey? Countries like Japan, Canada and Scotland spell whisky without the “e” whereas the USA and Ireland spell it, “whiskey”.  This is a good way to identify where the whisky was made.

whisky barrels stacked up in a warehouse

The whisky taste

As previously mentioned, whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, which can give it a smooth and mellow flavour. It is usually amber or brown in colour, and it may be either clear or cloudy. Whisky has a distinctively complex flavour that can vary depending on the type of grains used, the aging process, and other factors.

Some people find that whisky has a smoky flavour due to its distilling process in charred barrels while others taste hints of vanilla or caramel. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to tasting whisky. It is a matter of personal preference.  Whisky enthusiasts encourage newcomers to experiment with different brands and types of whisky to find the one that best suits their taste buds.

Scotch Land

Scotch is whisky that has been produced in Scotland. It must be made from malted barley and must be distilled in Scotland using pot stills to be considered a scotch. Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years to get its distinctive flavour which is very similar to a whiskey but a little more “malty”. But the exact taste of Scotch can also vary depending on the brand and region.

There are two main types of Scotch whisky: single malt and blended.

So what’s the difference? Single malt means the entire distilling process is completed within one distillery using 100% malted barley. On the other hand, blended means it can have a combination of grain and single malt whisky. It’s a much quicker process to make therefore it is the cheaper option out of the two. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a taste because it can provide certain flavours and complexities that a single malt scotch doesn’t offer.

What does scotch taste like?

Single malt scotch generally tastes smoky, oaky and peaty with a degree of sharpness, but the intensity varies from the different brands.  Blended scotch is known to be malty, and smoother with a spicy finish. The extra, unique flavours in scotch are included when extra ingredients such as dried fruits and spices are added to the casks during the aging process.

 You may also like "7 Easy Cocktail Recipes that Will Amaze Your Guests at Your Next Party

bottle of bourbon with a glass next to it on a table

All American Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Bourbon gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky where it was first produced. To be classified as bourbon, the whiskey must be produced in the United States.  Bourbon can be split into two categories, Rye mash bill bourbon, and wheat mash bill bourbon.

(Mash bill is a word describing the combination of grains in a distiller’s recipe.)

Bourbon generally has a sweeter flavour than scotch and whiskey due to the high sugar content of corn. Rye bourbons specifically have hints of spice, and a peppery quality just like an actual slice of rye bread.  In some cases, traces of cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and choco can be present in a typical rye bourbon which are all spices you’d find in a baker’s pantry.

Unlike rye bourbon, wheat bourbon has a less spicy presence and leaves a more smooth, creamy taste on the palate.  This is because the wheat allows for the sweetness of the corn to shine through more prominently. Like doughy bread, hints of floral and herbal undertones are noticeable in some bourbon brands.  This makes wheat bourbon ideal for entry level whisky explorers as it is less tense and dramatic on the palate.

So, can you have your bourbon with your favourite spread like your warm morning toast? The answer is no. It’s a beverage.

Is the whisk worth it?

Which one should you drink? If you’re new and still getting used to the sharp punch of a whiskey then its probably best to start with a bourbon.  Bourbon is sweeter and easier to swallow.  Start by having it on the rocks so the melted ice can ease the harshness an extra tad.  Once you’re ready to move on, you can start to learn the complexities of a scotch.  Blended or single malt, you’ll eventually learn to appreciate the flavours and your taste buds will decide which one to stick to.  But don't feel down if you're not into it. Whisky is not for everyone and there's always rum or cognac as an alternative.

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