Scotch is Whisky made in Scotland, while Bourbon is Whiskey made in the U.S.A, generally Kentucky. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while Bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a Whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish Whiskey (yep, they spell it differently for a little color) and in Japan they make Scotch. As for the spelling is it Whisky or Whiskey? Well, Whiskey is common in Ireland and Whisky is used in every other Whisky producing country in the world such as England, Denmark, Canada, Japan, Australia and Wales. But the USA uses both names and in Scotland, well, they just prefer to call it Scotch.
Confused? We know what you’re thinking. WHISKY OR WHISKEY?
Finally, an answer: One time world leaders in whiskey production, Ireland added an ‘e’ in 1875 to distinguish their product from the Scottish version in the American market. So, let’s look at what it is that really makes Whiskey Whiskey, Scotch Scotch and Bourbon Bourbon.
Whisky: The difference between the various whiskies relies mostly on the type of grain used. Malt Whisky is made primarily from malted barley and all other whiskies are made from grains such as barley, corn (maize), Rye and wheat(or a mixture thereof).
- Single malt Whisky is made entirely of malt grains. It could be blended together from different casks, but “Single” refers to the fact that all of the spirits in the blend are from a single distillery. This allows the distilleries to create unique flavors and characters.
- Blended malt Whisky is a mixture of single malt whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended whiskies are typically made from a mixture of malt and grain. There are very severe laws that dictate the age on the label. It cannot, for example, be less than three years old, and the age must be that of the youngest Whisky in the blend.
- Single-cask Whisky: the only kind that’s not blended. Basically, a distillery will tap a cask, and if the flavor is good enough, bottle it without mixing; making for some very unique bottles. If you buy a single-cask, you know that only about 300 other bottles in the world will taste exactly the same. These are rarer, though not necessarily more expensive or better.
Scotch Whisky: Scotch and Whisky are all acceptable terms for what we’re talking about here. However, to be clear, you cannot call your drink Scotch unless it was made 100% in Scotland, from Scotland; so all Scotch is Whisky, but not all Whisky is Scotch. It must be made from malted Barley, with many Scotches being made solely from barley, water and yeast. The spirit must also be aged in oak casks for no less than three years.
- Single malt Scotch Whisky means a Scotch Whisky produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery.
- Single grain Scotch Whisky means a Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery but, in addition to water and malted barley, may involve whole grains of other malted or un-malted cereals.
- Blended malt Scotch Whisky means a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended grain Scotch Whisky means a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended Scotch Whisky means a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
Irish Whiskey is pretty much any Whiskey aged in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland. You are free to use any cereal grains, but if you mix two or more then it must be labeled as blended. Finally, the Whiskey must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. Irish Whiskey is normally lighter in style to Scotch.
Bourbon: Whiskey must be made from a grain mixture which is at least 51% corn. Bourbon can only be labeled as Bourbon if it was made in the United States. Bourbon Whiskey from the US is aged for at least two years in new white American oak barrels and tends to be rather sweet in flavor compared to Scotch.
- Bourbon has no minimum aging period, but in order to call your product Straight Bourbon it must be aged for no less than two years. No coloring or flavoring.
- Blended Bourbon is permitted to contain coloring, flavoring and other spirits, as long as 51% of the mix is straight Bourbon. The age on the bottle of blended Bourbon must be the age of the youngest Whiskey in the mix.
Tennessee Whiskey is straight Bourbon made in the state of Tennessee. The people who produce this spirit, such as Jack Daniels, don’t want their Whiskey labeled as Bourbon of course and so they filter Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniel’s, through sugar-maple charcoal and it is this today that distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from your average Bourbon, like Jim Beam.
Rye is the trickiest of all Whiskeys to define. While you would assume Rye Whiskey must be made predominantly from Rye mash, this is not the case in Canada where you can label your Whisky as Rye if at least there is some Rye in it. In American Rye Whiskey, however, there must be no less than 51% Rye. Rye which has been aged more than two years may be referred to as Straight. There is only one producer in the world, which makes its blend from 100% Rye and that is Alberta Premium, strangely enough from Canada.
Corn Whiskey – the true American Moonshine. This whiskey is made from at least 80% corn and cannot exceed 80% ABV. The aging process is also drastically different, if it is aged at all. The length of maturation will be more in terms of months instead of years and the final product is usually clear, but can have some coloring.
Japanese Whisky uses exactly the same techniques ass the Scottish as the expertise was directly imported from Scotland in the early 20th century by Masataka Taketsuru, founder of Nikka. The Japanese producers distill a mash of malted barley or fermented grain in traditional stills, and then the spirit is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. So what is really the difference between Scotch whiskies and Japanese whiskies? Actually, this is one of the paradoxes of Japanese Whisky; it’s still relatively unknown, yet already one of the best in the world.
The Rest of the World – the above mentioned countries do not have the market cornered on the creation of whiskey. Many new and interesting takes on this time-honored craft can be found from Africa to Denmark. One country making a mark on the industry is India. With companies such as Amrut making world-class expressions it is hard not to take notice. Another area not far removed from Scotland and Ireland, Wales has also made some well-crafted whiskeys now and China, while not producing anything of note yet, is in the process of developing their own brands. While these are only a few examples of the ever-growing market, if one looks hard enough any type of whiskey from single malt to blends can be found. Companies have even begun flavoring their whiskeys. Currently the most popular is a honeyed whiskey, but others range from cherry, cinnamon, peach, and apple.
SCOTISH WHISKY MAP
Scotland’s whisky producing regions are as diverse as the wine regions of France. They give us single malt whiskies with distinct qualities and characteristics borne out of their location, climate and hundreds of years of craft. The different personalities of the Classic Malts reflect these distinctive regional variations.
ISLANDS (ISLAY & SKYE) – Peaty & Maritime
Sitting amongst the Inner Hebridean Scottish Isles, are the malt whisky producing islands of Islay and Skye. Rugged, windswept and barren, the island landscapes generally produce single malt whiskies with strong peaty, maritime aromas. The Islands malts are unmistakably powerful, bursting with flavor, from the recognized smokiness apparent in almost all offerings, to the more surprising notes such as the black pepper found in Talisker. All but one bottling distilled on Islay is peated; Bunnahabhain is the exception, a sweet and nutty whisky that should appeal to any Scotch drinker. Bruichladdich produces a lightly peated drink, subtle compared to its neighbors. It’s a good intro for someone crossing over into peatier styles. Beyond that, the other distilleries on the island all produce whiskies with varying ranges of peat, from mid-range to heavy. Other stylistic differences among these whiskies involve secondary flavors: Ardbeg, for example, is earthy and salty, whereas Laphroaig is iodine and medicinal. Other brands include Bowmore, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin.
CAMPBELTOWN – Peaty and Nutty
The smallest of the whisky regions, Campbeltown was historically among the most active, with over 30 working distilleries. Now, though, things have changed, and the region is reduced to two: Springbank and Glen Scotia. The whiskies here are moderately peated, with the smoke mostly held in check by other flavors, such as rich maltiness, brineyness, as well as more sweet and nutty flavors.
HIGHLANDS – Smooth & Floral
Known as one of the most scenic regions in Scotland, this land of rugged peaks and heather covered moor-land is geographically the largest of the whisky-producing regions by far. Drams are produced here in many different styles, and so it’s difficult to generalize about a “Highland style”. A creamy and well-balanced whisky, Glenmorangie, which is very famous worldwide is currently the best-selling single malt in Scotland, but there are many more such as Dalmore, Isle of Jura, or Highland Park from the Orkney Islands and Talisker, from the island of Skye. Talisker is a rich, heavy, and smoky malt—not as hugely peated as, say, Lagavulin, but definitely noticeably smoky. Talisker is a great introduction to the peatier side of Scotch, for someone who wants to start exploring those flavors and aromas. Other Highlands brands include Balblair, Clynelish, Old Pulteney, Glen Garioch, Lochnagar, Ben Nevis, Dalwhinnie, Glengoyne, Loch Lomond, Oban, Edradour, and Scapa.
SPEYSIDE – Fruity & Delicate
Over half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries can be found within this one region. Speyside – the lush, fertile valley of the River Spey – is undoubtedly the heart of single malt whisky distilling in Scotland. It’s classic flavors of honey, vanilla and fresh fruits (apples, pears) combine to create whiskies that are both sophisticated and elegant. With age, and especially when matured in sherry casks, they evolve to deliver dried fruit and sweet spice flavors. However, Speyside malts encompass such a vast range of varying characters and styles, that geographic classifications are no longer as meaningful as they were historically. Aberlour and Macallan, for example, sherry-ages many of their whiskies, producing a nutty, fruity dram. Balvenie carries notes of honey and orange, whereas its neighbor, Glenfiddich, tastes more of raisins and chocolate. These days, flavor and character in these malts depends more on house style than regional characteristics. Other Speyside distilleries include Cardhu, Cragganmore, Glenfarclas, and Glenlivet.
LOWLANDS – Light & Fresh
The terrain of the Lowlands is characterized by rolling fields which are ideally suited to growing grain for whisky. The softer landscape is mirrored in the region’s single malts which tend to be lighter in both color and body, than those of the Highlands. With little or no peat used in the drying of the malt, the whiskies distilled here are generally fresh and light, fragrant and floral with cereal flavorings. Whiskies from this region are traditionally triple-distilled, making them smooth and light in character, much like Irish whiskies. (Malts from other regions are generally double-distilled, giving them richer character and a thicker body.) For this reason, Lowlands malts are often a good place for Scotch novices to begin. One well-known Lowland is Glenkinchie. A light, rounded, and flowery dram, it’s great for beginners. As a bonus, the distillery is located near Edinburgh; it receives visitors and makes for a convenient side trip. Another option is Auchentoshan; triple-distilled, it’s sweet and delicate and another option for newbies. Located near Glasgow, it’s also a very accessible distillery for a side trip. The only other Lowland whisky currently produced is Bladnoch.