What is the difference between scotch and bourbon?
There are many difference between scotch and bourbon and of course the nations argue about who invented the golden water of life. A crucial difference between American and Scottish whiskey is the basic ingredient: While in Scotland only malted barley is used in single malt whiskey, Americans prefer to use corn for bourbon whiskey.
The word “whiskey” comes (as “uisge beatha”) from the Scottish Gaelic language or as “uisce beatha” from Irish and means water of life (uisge / uisce = water, beatha = life). The English eventually made “whiskey” out of it. In the literature, this term, which initially also referred to other spicy brandies, is mentioned for the first time in 1736. The Americans adopted the term but wrote “whiskey” with an E before the Y.
Whisk (e) y can be made from barley, rye, wheat, or corn. If the whiskey was distilled over an open peat fire (in Scotland), it has a smoky, peaty taste. Just as important as the distillation is the type and composition of the wooden barrels. If, for example, it is from former sherry barrels, the whiskey also has notes of sherry. With whiskey (as with rum), the length of the ripening period plays a significant role. There are also differences in the finish, i.e. in the aftertaste.
The major difference between scotch and bourbon is:
The first documented entry in the Scottish tax documents about aquavit dates back to 1494. At this point in time, John Cor, a Benedictine monk from Lindores Monastery, allegedly bought around 500 kg of malt on the order of the king, which is necessary for the production of approx. 400 Bottles of whiskey were enough. In the course of time, the Scottish clans also produced the ‘water of life for their own use.
After all, after the Germans, Scots and Irish settled in America at the beginning of the 18th century, attempts were made to use the knowledge they had acquired in Europe to produce whiskey from grain. However, this did not succeed with the usual barley, as the land was not suitable for cultivation. So the farmers based in North America took the rye and wheat growing there as a substitute. Since peat was also not available there, the result was a rather bland distillate that deviated greatly from the desired taste. An attempt was made to bring in the missing, typical smoke aroma by charring the barrels. However, it didn’t have much to do with today’s bourbon whiskey.
Another difference between scotch and bourbon is while looking for his own American whiskey variety, one of the distillers of the time – probably the Baptist preacher Elijah Craig in 1789 – came up with the idea of trying corn, which thrives wonderfully in the latitudes there. The attempt was a complete success.
The production of comparatively good quality was only achieved thereby the pure whiskey distilleries at the end of the 18th century.
Malt whiskey is the unblended product of a single distillery with its very own, traditional character. The so-called ‘blend’, on the other hand, consists of several malt and grain whiskeys, the malt or grain whiskey. The quality of every whiskey depends not least on the skill and experience of the master distiller. If he has the right instinct and can use the best ingredients (pure spring water, selected grain, yeast, etc.), the result is a whiskey of the highest quality and purity.
Even the location of the distillery plays a role in whiskey production. For example, the difference between scotch and bourbon is that the Islay Malt from the largest of the Scottish islands has nuances of iodine and seaweed in addition to its peaty character. On the other hand, the American Bouron impresses with its sweet fruitiness and hearty, smoky note, which is caused by the burning out of the barrels.
Last but not least, experts consider distillation to be the most important work step. This follows fermentation, during which yeast converts the sugar in the mash into alcohol. The alcohol-containing liquid is usually heated twice in Scotland.
In contrast, the American whiskey JACK DANIEL, for example, is only distilled once and is therefore particularly heavy. Tennessee Whiskey, on the other hand, is made with a high proportion of corn (approx. 80%), which makes the whiskey particularly soft. The 4-day filtering through a 3.5-meter thick layer of charcoal also contributes to the fact that the product is not only softer but also significantly sweeter.
Ultimately, however, what is of the greatest importance is the individual taste sensation of the individual taster, which does not necessarily have to correspond to the opinion of the “broad masses”. The taste buds of each individual and their eating habits are much too differentiated from their earliest youth.
So it happens that one swears by scotch whiskey, while the other prefers “his” American bourbon whiskey.
Why the bourbon is called that?
The whiskey is called bourbon because it was originally distilled in Bourbon County in Kentucky. This county in turn got its name from the French noble family, the Bourbons, as Louis XVI supported the Americans during the War of Independence against the English. There are whiskeys that are more sweet than dry and others in which the fruit or a special flavor dominates. Some types (such as Irish whiskey) taste like toffee, malt, chocolate or dried fruit, others have stronger aromas that tend towards oak, peat, sea salt, honey or tropical fruits (as with Scottish whiskey), and again others have a more smoky character and notes of cinnamon, almonds, dates, dried fruits, blackberries, oranges, caramel and spices (like American bourbon).
9 Differences between scotch and bourbon
- Both scotch whiskey and bourbon whiskey are tied to their traditional region of origin. The two types of whiskey are therefore not allowed to be produced anywhere in the world. As you can already guess from the name Scotch whiskey, the spirit may only be produced in Scotland. In fact, in order to be allowed to call the spirit Scotch, the entire production from distillation, and storage to bottling must take place in Scotland. However, the raw materials used – and especially the barley – do not necessarily have to come from Scotland. They can be imported.
- Different types of grain are traditionally used for the production of whiskey or whiskey. This is mainly due to historical reasons: In the past, the spirit was distilled from the grain that was readily available in the respective region.
- With scotch whiskey, the sub-variety is again decisive: malt whiskeys are distilled in more or less bulbous pot stills made of copper, which have to be refilled for each distillation process. Scotch is usually twice distilled. The first fire takes place in the wash and the second fire in spirit still. Grain whiskeys, on the other hand, can be produced continuously in large column stills.
- Scotch whiskey must be aged in oak barrels in Scotland for at least 3 years. For this purpose, barrels are usually used in which another spirit has already been matured. Most of the Scotch whiskey barrels used are American Bourbon barrels that are converted into hogsheads. In addition, Spanish sherry casks are also widely used. But it is also possible to use other oak barrels, such as port wine, rum or wine barrels. Since 2019, a new regulation has even allowed the use of, for example, Calvados or Tequila barrels for Scotch whiskey. Different barrels can also be used one after the other: for example those made of American or French oak. Mixing differently matured whiskeys is also possible. This results in a great variety of tastes in Scottish whiskeys.
- Bourbon whiskey may only be aged in new, freshly burned American oak barrels. The barrels, also known as American Standard Barrels (ASB) , have a capacity of approx. 200 liters. There are usually four different levels (“grades”) for the mandatory burn-out:
- Grade 1 is burned out for 15 seconds
- In second grade 2 is burned out for 30 seconds
- Third grade is burned out for 35 seconds
- Grade 4 is burned out for 55 seconds
- The fourth degree is also called “alligator char”, as the oak wood is already beginning to burst and the appearance is reminiscent of the skin of an alligator.
- The climate in Kentucky – used here because it is the largest bourbon region in the USA – is completely different from that in Scotland. In Kentucky, cool winters contrast with hot and dry summers. This has an effect on the maturation of the whiskey: the bourbon is pressed into the barrel walls during the hot summer, absorbs aromas here, and retreats again in the cold winter.
- Bourbon whiskey is exposed to greater temperature fluctuations during maturation and matures faster than Scottish whiskey. With strong temperature fluctuations, the angels’ share increases: With bourbon, however, more water evaporates than alcohol, so the alcohol content in the barrel usually even increases during maturation.
- Since fresh barrels are used for bourbon, the oak wood aromas gain the upper hand more quickly and shape the taste of the whiskey. Most bourbon whiskeys are therefore bottled younger than their Scottish counterparts.