Scotch vs. Whiskey

You’re not alone if you wonder what makes scotch and whiskey different. With several significant similarities, it can be challenging for the average person to distinguish between the two.

Some experts say that you can tell them apart by sniffing. But even that requires some background knowledge.

Scotch and whiskey are spirits distilled from fermented grain. Scotch is a type of whiskey. The difference is in the place of distillation and the process of maturation. Aging time and vessels also contribute to flavor profiles and texture differences.

So, what is the difference between whiskey vs. scotch?

What is Scotch?

What is Scotch

Scotch is the name non-Scottish people call whisky produced in Scotland. Note that the Scots simply call it whisky.

So, for whisky to qualify as scotch, it has to come from a distillery in Scotland. The distilled spirit has to age for at least three years in wooden casks/barrels. And it must be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.

There’s a notable difference in the spelling. Scotch is whisky (not whiskey, spelled with “e.”) Canadians, Scots, and Japanese favor the shorter spelling, “whisky.” Other countries, including the United States and Ireland, use “whiskey.”

Scotch is almost always distilled from fermented barley. However, recent inventions have seen Scottish distilleries use other grains such as rye or wheat. So, Scotch whisky can be single malt or blended grain whisky.

A scotch made from a single grain malt (barley) and distilled at one distillery is known as a single malt whisky, simply whisky, or scotch. If the distiller uses more than one type of grain or malt or more than one spirit is blended to produce scotch, it’s known as blended whisky (scotch).

The law requires that blended whisky distillers declare the age on the bottle. The number usually shows the age of the youngest spirit in the blend. If there’s no age declaration, the assumption is that the scotch is at least three years old —the industry standard requirement. 

What is Whiskey?

Whiskey, spelled with an e, is a spirit made by distilling grain mash in the United States or Ireland. The grain used can be barley, rye, corn, or wheat. It can be malt or dry grain. Aside from grain, the other ingredients are water and yeast.

Since barley was initially the only grain used in malt, some people may refer to the product of malted barley simply as malt whiskey.

If other grains are used, they will call the product grain whiskey. Most American whiskeys are grain whiskeys because they rarely use barley exclusively. These distillers may use a little barley to make mashing easier.

At distillation, whiskey can have as high proof as 95%. Of course, bottlers dilute it to about 40% ABV. But like scotch, one major characteristic of whiskey is its high alcohol content.

Distillers use stills made of copper. The copper helps to remove any sulfur contents. If some piping or the still is made of stainless steel, it will have a copper lining on the inside.

American whiskey ages in new charred oak barrels. The charred surface gives it its amber color and unique smooth flavors. Some distillers may use old barrels that previously aged sherry or wine to induce even more flavors into the drink.

There are a few well-known blends of American whiskey. These are:

  • Bourbon whiskey: Made of at least 51% corn. The spirit has to age in charred oak barrels for some time. There’s no legal requirement for aging time.
  • Corn whiskey: Made from at least 80% corn. Corn whiskey should age in either used or non-charred oak barrels. It should not be confused with bourbon, as the percentage of corn shows.
  • Rye whiskey: This type of whiskey has to be distilled from 51% rye.
  • Tennessee whiskey: The difference between this whiskey and bourbon is the place of distillation and method of filtration. It’s produced in Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal before aging.

Difference Between Scotch and Whiskey

This article shows that scotch is a type of whiskey produced in Scotland. Only non-Scottish people refer to it as scotch. It has to age in a cask for at least three years.

On the other hand, whiskey (spelled with e) is a golden-colored alcoholic drink made from grain, yeast, and water in the United States or Ireland.

Both scotch and whiskey are the results of mashing, fermentation, and aging.

The differences are mainly:

  • Country of origin
  • Spelling
  • Aging time and vessels
  • Grain used

If you’re one of those with an adventurous palate and want a longer, smoother taste with exciting aromas, endless whiskey blends are waiting for you to try. We recommend the American Honey Whiskey, one of our favorites here at Arthur’s Tavern.