What's the Difference Between Scotch and Whiskey?

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Aah, whiskey. You keep us warm on cold winter’s nights. You soothe our nerves when we’ve had a turn. You pick us up when we’re down. You knock us out with your flavour, then reel us in with your body. You’re smooth, sexy and best after dark. Whiskey - we’re all yours. But who are you Scotch? Aren’t you just another word for whiskey? And what are you doing at our whiskey party? If you have ever wondered what the difference between Scotch and whiskey - or whisky - is, then read on. We’re happy to help. 

Scotch vs Whiskey

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Scotch is whisky - but without the e. The reason it is called Scotch is basically geographical. Like that famous sparkling white wine that can only be called champagne if it actually comes from the region of Champagne, Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland. Whiskey (whisky) on the other hand can be made anywhere. Bourbon is made in America while Scotch Bourbon is only made, you’ve guessed it, north of Hadrien’s Wall. If you're in England or Scotland and order a whiskey you’ll most probably get a Scotch. If you’re in Ireland, you’ll get an Irish whiskey. And if you’re anywhere else in the world, you’ll get asked what you want.

The other big difference between whiskey and Scotch is not in the taste but in the spelling. Some countries favour dropping the e - think Canadian whisky and Japanese whisky. More about that here.

Is Irish Whiskey the Same as Scotch?

So, what’s the difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey? Well, as the names suggests, each drink is made exclusively in their eponymous country. Scotch is made from malted barley and water, while Irish whiskey comes from a sour mash of malted cereal grains such as corn, barley and wheat. Just in case you didn’t know, the term malted refers to the grain which has been soaked and begun to sprout.

But the biggest difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey is the distillation process. While both spirits are distilled liquors, Scotch is distilled twice to Irish whiskey’s thrice. This extra distillation gives Irish whiskey a smoother finish and some say make it the best in the world. 

Regarding the maturation process, there are similarities between both. By Irish law, all whiskeys must be aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Most distilleries use charred oak casks that have previously held bourbon, which gives Irish whiskey its signature mellow sweetness. Oak is the preferred wood of choice as it is breathable and durable. Charring the cask prior to adding the liquid gives the wood a filter that eliminates congeners and gives it that smoky, toasty taste that we all love so much.

Scotch whisky, including blended malt whisky, must mature for three years and one day (the extra 24-hours makes all the difference). However, many distilleries on both sides of the Irish Sea mature for longer, preferring to wait until their product has the perfect taste profile. 

What is Single Malt Scotch?

Single malt scotch is the elite of Scottish whiskeys. The “single” in the name refers to the fact it comes from a single distillery and is made from 100% malted barley. As long as all the liquid comes from the same distillery, this is a single malt. The number on the label refers to the youngest whiskey in the blend, even if the liquid in the bottle comes from a few hundred different barrels. As a general rule of thumb, single malt whiskey is generally aged for 10 years or more but can be aged anything from 12-21 years. In general, the older it is, teh better it gets.

What is a blended whiskey then?

Blended whiskies are the mixture of single malt whiskeys from different distilleries. The choice of using liquids from various places is down to the Master Blender and is an incredibly difficult task. The Master Distiller will create the blend using different types of whiskeys from single grain Scotch to rye whiskey in order to create the unique taste identity that will define the drink. They work in meticulous detail ensuring that proportions are just right and that each blend is not only phenomenal but consistent in quality and brand identity. 

So, what is Bourbon then?

Whiskey Bourbon is an American whiskey that is made from 51 percent corn mash. It tends to have a much sweeter taste compared to Scotch or Irish whiskeys. Think smooth notes of vanilla and caramel, enhanced by the oak cask aging. Because Irish whiskey is aged in pre-used bourbon casks, American Bourbon drinkers very often find themselves enamoured with their Irish cousin from over the pond.

Now you know the difference between Scotch and Irish whiskeys, why not try out some of our award-winning Irish whiskeys?