Scotch and Bourbon are both members of a very popular, and widely consumed family: Whiskey – a dark brown drink with an aged taste that’s frequently enjoyed by people from Scotland to Japan, and of course the United States. Many popular brands like Johnnie Walker, Jack Daniels, and Maker’s Mark have become household names due to their popularity. The world of whiskey has a few rules, each set forth to distinguish between the various members of the family. The biggest rule: In order to qualify as “whiskey,” the drink must be distilled to a minimum of 40% and a maximum of 94.8% alcohol by volume (ABV). ABV determines whether we have a whiskey in our hand, but what determines if what we’re drinking is scotch or bourbon?
Made famous by makers like Wild Turkey and Jim Beam, this American take on whiskey has been around since the 18th century but didn’t gain widespread appeal until the late 19th century. Bourbon must have a grain mixture of at least 51% corn. While it can be made anywhere in the United States, the most popular brands are produced in Kentucky. You may have heard the phrase “straight bourbon” in drinking circles – this label is given to bourbon that is aged no less than two years. There is no minimum age for bourbon, and many are not classified as such for this reason. The charred, sweet taste synonymous with bourbon is a result of the oak barrel, which is charred before the aging process.
One clue to scotch’s story lies in its name; the Scottish have been distilling the drink since the late 15th century. While bourbon requires corn, scotch instead must be made from malted barley, with other whole grains added for more color. The distillation process differs from bourbon in that most single blend scotch is double distilled, while bourbon is put into a column still, then distilled a second time in a copper pot. Scotch is aged for 3 years at minimum and may be exposed to remnants of other spirits since often they are aged in barrels used by other distilleries.
There are, no doubt, clear differences between the two famous spirits, but we’ve only scratched the surface. Each scotch and bourbon carry with it a distinct taste that may be unlike any other in their respective family. In this age of information, there is no reason you should have to drink anything less than your preference. Research and ask around to see what others enjoy and explore recommendations. The world of whiskey is vast, and you never know when you’re going to try your next favorite drink!