What’s the Difference Between Bourbon, Whisky, & Scotch?
Really, is there any difference between these three drinks? Some think they’re entirely different drinks, others think they are the same thing but with different names, but a lot of people really have no idea. If you fall into the latter category, you are definitely not alone. The nuances of specific liquors tend to go over many people’s heads. So, unless you’re a bartender or someone who absolutely loves whiskey, it makes sense that you haven’t studied the fine differences between these three spirits.
Let’s dive into the differences and similarities between bourbon, whiskey, and scotch, learn about popular brands, and even discover a great list of cocktails that you can make. After reading this article, you should know enough to explain the differences to your friends. Or, keep the information all to yourself, and impress them with your knowledge instead. Either way, here is our ultimate guide to bourbon, whiskey, and scotch.
Table of Contents
Are Bourbon, Whiskey, and Scotch the Same?
No, bourbon, whiskey, and scotch are not the same. However, some types do overlap a bit, but we’ll get into that later. Basically, whiskey is the original version of the spirit. Bourbon and scotch are types of whiskies with different regulations and rules that make them different from whiskey. Each spirit is made from a specific grain mash that might include corn, barley, rye, and wheat. They are all distilled the same way, with a couple of exceptions.
What Is Whiskey?
Whiskey is the original variation of the spirit, and Scotch and bourbon were created later. This spirit is made from distilling different types of grain mash. All of the grains used must be malted and can include barley, rye, corn, and wheat. It is aged in wooden casks, and most brands use charred white oak for their casks to really give it that iconic flavor. For an alcohol to be considered whiskey, it cannot have any added flavors. The flavor profile entirely comes from the barrel used for whiskey’s aging.
Whiskey is one of the most strictly regulated liquors out there, with many specific rules for what constitutes a certain type. There are over 16 variations of whiskey, mostly differentiated by their country of origin.
This whiskey variation must be produced in the state of Tennessee. It is pretty much the same thing as bourbon, as they both use a 51% corn mash in their production. Tennessee whiskey is similar to Bourbon, a U.S. whiskey variation whose creation is strictly regulated by the federal government. Tennessee whiskies typically meet the requirements to be considered Bourbon, but they include two added processes to transform into a Tennessee whiskey: In order to be classified as Tennesse whiskey, the whiskey must be produced in-state. It must also undergo a special filtering step referred to as the Lincoln County Process, which happens before the whiskey is aged. The Lincoln County Process filters the whiskey through maple charcoal before putting it into another oak barrel, made of charred oak, to continue the aging process. The two major producers in the state are Jack Daniels and George Dickel.
Very simply put, Irish whiskey is a whiskey that is made in Ireland—mind-blowing, we know. The word whiskey is actually derived from the Irish word meaning ‘water of life.’
There are a few variations of this spirit, including pot still Irish whiskey, Irish malt whiskey, Irish grain whiskey, and blended Irish whiskey. Typically, Irish whiskey is distilled three times and aged in wood barrels for a minimum of three years. It uses unmalted barley that is blended with grain whiskey, although there are single malt varieties available. It is known for being particularly smooth and light, and popular brands include Jameson and Tullamore Dew.
Just like Tennessee whiskey and Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey is a blended whiskey that is produced in Canada. They are known for being lighter and smoother than other types of whiskies.
Canadian whiskey is a blended multi-grain liquor, meaning that it is made from corn and has a little bit of rye grain added to its mash. Canadian whiskies can use as many as 20 (or more!) ingredients in its blends, which contribute to its smooth taste. In Canada, the terms ‘rye whiskey’ and ‘Canadian whiskey’ can be used interchangeably.
By law, rye whiskey must be made with a mash that is composed of 51% rye grain. Typically, the rest of the mash is made up of corn and malted barley. It is distilled up to 160 proof but cannot go over this number. It must be aged in charred, new oak barrels.
American rye whiskey is similar to bourbon, and it is technically the same thing as Canadian whiskey. Unlike some of the other popular varieties of whiskey, rye whiskey can be made anywhere. Its flavor profile is typically spicy and bold.
Best Whiskey Cocktails
Regular whiskey is often used in spicy and bold cocktails, making it rare to find a fruity cocktail that uses it. Instead, you’ll find lots of flavor, spice, and sophistication to match the complexity of the spirit. A lot of whiskey cocktails use citrus fruits like oranges and limes, which will help to enhance the whiskey flavor and add a touch of freshness to an otherwise heavier cocktail. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like fruity, tropical drinks, then whiskey cocktails might just be your new go-to.
Below, we have three whiskey cocktail recipes to wet your whistle.
The Manhattan is a good choice for those who like simple, sophisticated drinks. This is a no-nonsense cocktail that is common at high-end restaurants and bars. This is typically enjoyed by the more seasoned whiskey drinker, but if you like whiskey even a little, don’t be afraid to give it a try. Here’s what you need:
Add the whiskey, bitters, and sweet vermouth to a shaker with ice. Take an orange peel and use it to rim your drinking glass with a bit of orange juice. Strain the mixture into the glass and serve with a couple of maraschino cherries.
If you don’t have maraschino cherries on hand, here’s how to make them yourself: bring maraschino liqueur to a boil. Add in some sour cherries, and then let cool. Add the liqueur and cherries to mason jars and keep them in the fridge for a few months.
Many people think that this bright, tasty drink uses regular whiskey, as its name suggests. However, it can actually use bourbon, because it pairs better with the other ingredients. The Whiskey Sour is known for its tart and sour kick, thanks to the fresh lemon juice. This is a really great drink for those who like simple cocktails. Here’s what you will need:
- Lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
- Simple syrup
Start by adding the lemon juice, whiskey, and simple syrup to a shaker. Shake well, and pour into a glass with ice. Top with an orange slice and maraschino cherries if you so desire.
This is a great drink to have as a post-dinner treat. It also works great for weekend brunch when you need an extra pick-me-up. Just make sure you are using Irish whiskey for this recipe instead of regular whiskey. Trust us; it makes a difference! And don’t forget to make your own whipped cream for the topping. You will need these ingredients:
- Heavy cream and powdered sugar
- Irish whiskey
Prepare the hot coffee as you would normally. While the coffee is brewing, make the whipped cream. Whip the cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Grab a mug and add in your whiskey. Then, pour the hot coffee on top until the mug is almost full. Finish by adding a big dollop of whipped cream on top.
Best Whiskey Brands
Now that you know some fun whiskey cocktails you can make, you should also know what some of the most popular whiskey brands are so you can use them in your cocktails. Just like with bourbon, there are whiskey brands that are traditional and iconic, as well as newer up-and-coming brands that like to put their twist on a classic whiskey.
Three brands that you need to know about: Crown Royal, Bulleit, and Fireball.
Crown Royal is one of the most famous and well-known whiskey brands. It hails from the north, with its origins starting in Canada in the 1960s. Aged for three years in either oak or ash barrels, this whiskey is super flavorful, with many describing it as creamy with hints of oak and vanilla. Crown Royal is the best-selling whiskey in Canada.
Bulleit whiskey is known for packing a punch with a strong bite to finish. It has a much higher rye content than other whiskey brands, which is what gives it that little extra kick. It has delicious hints of maple, oak, and nutmeg. Many seasoned whiskey drinkers prefer this brand for sipping slowly on its own. Those newer to drinking whiskey might prefer adding a splash of ginger ale or Coke.
Ah yes, Fireball. We simply can’t have a list of popular whiskey brands without mentioning this notoriously spicy blend. If you’re just starting to venture into the world of whiskey and you tend to like your drinks sweet, give this brand a try. It’s commonly done as shots by college students, but that doesn’t mean a more refined palate can’t enjoy it too. It also works really well in whiskey cocktails.
What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey. For bourbon, a corn mash is used as the base. In order for a whiskey to be classified as a bourbon, it must use at least 51% corn in its grain mash, and it’s nearly always aged in barrels.
There are a few rules that bourbon-makers must follow to earn their name. We already mentioned one of these rules, the 51% corn rule. Another is that the corn mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, and it cannot contain any additives whatsoever. The last rule is that the whiskey must be aged in a new charred oak barrel. If the product follows all of these steps, then it can be referred to as bourbon.
Best Bourbon Cocktails
While many people prefer to sip their bourbon neat, there are a lot of great cocktails that call for a splash or two of bourbon to act as the star of the show. Bourbon cocktails are especially popular in the south (ever heard of Bourbon Street?), leading to some great, complex flavor combinations.
We think these recipes should be popular everywhere because they make for really unique and tasty drinks. Here are three bourbon cocktails we think you should try for yourself.
Warning: this is a strong (and oh so delicious) cocktail that you should sip slowly. In a way, it’s like a grownup version of a snow cone due to the use of shaved ice in the cocktail. The Mint Julep rose to fame thanks to the Kentucky Derby, where you can find most people enjoying one while watching the races. You will need three ingredients to make this drink.
- Sugar or simple syrup
- Fresh mint
Add the simple syrup to a shaker. Then, muddle the mint leaves in the syrup. Add the bourbon and then top with ice. Give it a good shake to combine everything.
In your glass, add a scoop of shaved ice. Pour the mixture from the shaker over the shaved ice. Top with fresh mint leaves for garnish.
Some people swear by the hot toddy as a cold-cure remedy. Others just prefer it in the winter or fall months. Either way, it is a delightfully spicy drink that will warm you up. Hot toddies are super easy to make, requiring only four ingredients. These also make a great drink for those who don’t like heavy cocktails. Here’s what you will need:
- Cinnamon sticks
Start by boiling some water in a pot on the stove. Then, add the hot water to a mug. Add in the freshly squeezed lemon juice, honey, and bourbon. Stir everything until the honey melts. Then, add in a cinnamon stick and a lemon slice for extra flavor.
We know you’ve heard of this classic cocktail. For the Old Fashioned, you want to be careful with the bourbon you choose. There’s an old rule that says if you wouldn’t drink the bourbon on its own, you shouldn’t be adding it to the drink. Meaning? Make sure you use a really good bourbon—try Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey to give this drink some extra oomph.
You can make other varieties of this cocktail once you master the bourbon Old Fashioned, so perfect the classic and then get to experimenting. You will need three ingredients:
- Angostura bitters
Start by adding the sugar and bitters to a glass. Then, add in water, just a small splash at a time, until the sugar dissolves in the mixture. Add some ice cubes to the glass, and then top it all off with your bourbon. Take a spoon and mix well, and finish by adding an orange peel.
Best Bourbon Brands
Some whiskey and bourbon brands are hundreds of years old. These brands have used the same recipes for generations, which allowed them to stand the test of time. However, the bourbon market doesn’t end there. There are newer companies that started in the 90s, 2000s, and even the past year or two, which are also making a big splash.
Bourbon is distinctive and special to the United States, which lends to its interesting history. It can be made anywhere in the country, but it is largely associated with the state of Kentucky. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of bourbon!
Jim Beam is one of the most well-known bourbon brands out there, and for good reason. It’s been around since it originated in Kentucky in 1795, making it one of the oldest bourbon companies in the United States. The recipe has been passed down for seven generations, making it a crowd favorite for over two hundred years.
It is one of the best-selling bourbons in not only the US but the world. This spicy bourbon can be served any way you like it.
Knob Creek offers a special Kentucky-made bourbon that is aged for nine years. This brand is known for its rich flavors and full-body texture. This 100-proof bourbon has strong herbal notes which pair well with its strong taste. Knob Creek is actually a small batch bourbon that is brewed by Jim Beam distilleries in the city of Clermont. It originated in 1992.
This Four Roses bourbon is popular for fruity flavors that steal the show. It is crisp, soft, and smooth, making it a truly enjoyable drinking experience. While you’re sipping, you will taste hints of pear and apple.
Four Roses has been around since 1910 when its distillery doors opened in Kentucky, and (fun fact) it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What Is Scotch?
Scotch is another type of whiskey, but this variation is made in Scotland. Just as makers of champagne must produce their bubbly drink in the Champagne region of France, Scotch must be produced in Scotland, or it cannot be considered scotch.
It’s made from malt whiskey or grain whiskey and must adhere to a very specific set of laws in order to be called scotch. When scotch was originally produced, it only used malted barley. Today, there are 133 scotch distilleries that are operating in Scotland, and it remains a huge part of the national culture.
Types of Scotch
There are five different categories of scotch. Each has its own distinct characteristics and flavor profiles. Some people greatly prefer one type of scotch over another, especially experienced Scotch drinkers. These different types mostly refer to distillery regulations and the ingredients that are used in each one.
- Single Malt – Single Malt Scotch has to be distilled at one single distillery.
- Single Grain – Single Grain scotch whiskey must also be distilled at one distillery. The difference is this one is made from cereal grains instead of malted barley.
- Blended Scotch – This scotch whiskey combines one or more single malt scotches with one or more single grain scotches.
- Blended Grain – This is a blend of single grain scotches. These single grain scotches are distilled at more than one distillery.
- Blended Malt – This is a blend of two or more single malts that come from different distilleries.
Best Scotch Cocktails
There are quite a few scotch cocktails you can try for yourself. But, interestingly enough, scotch is primarily enjoyed on its own. Whisky aficionados almost always prefer a scotch sipped neat or on the rocks than in a cocktail. This is probably because it is a bit rarer than regular whiskies, so people think it should be enjoyed on its own. Either way, using it in cocktails adds a cool twist to the drink.
Check out three of our favorite scotch cocktail recipes below.
If you like the Manhattan cocktail, you’ll love the Rob Roy. They are pretty much the same drink, except the Rob Roy uses scotch instead of whiskey. Using scotch makes for a noticeably different and delicious taste. This is a very old cocktail that has been around since the late 1800s. You will need four simple ingredients to make this drink.
- Sweet vermouth
- Angostura bitters
- Brandied cherries
Take the scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters and add them into a glass. Add some ice and stir the mixture until it is nice and chilled. Then, strain the mixture into a cocktail glass that is chilled. Finish by topping with a couple of brandied cherries for garnish.
This is a unique drink that not many people have heard of, named after the iconic antibiotic. It’s light and smooth, with delicious hints of honey and lemon. Its bright, cheery nature makes it the perfect summer cocktail (or any time that you need some cheering up). Its flavor profile is actually quite similar to a Hot Toddy, but this drink is served cold. Here are the ingredients you will need:
- Blended scotch
- Single malt scotch
- Lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
- Fresh ginger
- Honey syrup (made by adding honey and water into a pan and heating)
Start by adding the ginger to the bottom of the shaker and muddle it. Add the rest of the ingredients on the list to the shaker and top off with ice. Shake the mixture until it is very cold. Then, strain everything into your drinking glass. Finish it all off by adding a bit of ice and a lemon wedge.
Blood and Sand
This cocktail originated in the late 1920s/early 1930s. It was extremely popular during this time, and we can understand why. This is a delicious cocktail that is sure to impress anyone who drinks it. It uses blood orange and cherry liqueur which are not commonly combined together in cocktails. You just need four ingredients to make this tasty drink.
- Blended scotch
- Cherry liqueur
- Sweet vermouth
- Blood orange juice (freshly squeezed)
This is a simple drink to make, but it tastes like it took you a while to master. This makes it the perfect cocktail for parties or gatherings if you want to show off your bartending skills. Throw everything into a shaker filled with ice and give it a good shake. Then, simply strain into a glass and garnish with an orange peel.
Best Scotch Brands
So, what scotch brands should you be using to make these delicious and fun cocktails? We have a few suggestions for you.
The really great thing about scotch (and liquor in general) is that it can really be customized to your preference. Whatever you like is the perfect scotch to choose for cocktails or sipping neat. Of course, some things will taste better if you follow the directions, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Here are three popular scotch brands that will work well in any of the cocktails we mentioned above or on their own.
Johnnie Walker’s Pioneer Blend
This scotch is part of Johnnie Walker’s Red Label collection. The Red Label is Johnnie Walker’s mixable scotch collection, meant to be used in some of your favorite scotch cocktails like an old-fashioned or a whiskey sour. It’s the best-selling blended Scotch whiskey across the globe, but Johnnie Walker also offers higher quality whiskeys in their Green, Blue, and Double Black labels meant to be sipped neat.
The specific Red Label scotch known as the Pioneer Blend features 30 malts and grains from eastern Scotland. This is combined with crisp and smokey peat moss flavors, with lingering cinnamon and black pepper notes, as well. This brand is recommended for cocktails like a Highball or Rusty Nail.
Straight from Scotland, Buchanan’s offers up this incredible scotch that’s aged for 12 years. It’s a simple, classic scotch that’s known for being a well-blended single-malt variety. It is exceptionally smooth and has won several awards for its amazing taste and high-quality blend.
This brand was established in 1879 and has carried on the same tradition of scotch-making ever since. They also have other varieties of scotch, including one that is aged for 18 years.
Macallan Double Cask
Macallan is a very well-known brand that makes whisky and scotch. Macallan Double Cask was aged for 12 years, and it is classified as a single malt scotch. They use casks seasoned with sherry for a truly distinct flavor experience.
People like this scotch because it is approachable, and newbies and veterans alike agree that this is a great drink. We recommend sipping this one on its own, but you can always try it in a cocktail recipe if you desire.
Get Whiskey, Bourbon, and Scotch Delivered With Saucey
After all that, we’re pretty confident that you’re an expert on whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. There’s just one last missing piece of the puzzle before you can truly call yourself an expert: you need to start sampling different whiskies, scotches, and bourbons.
The truth is, you can read about and learn about everything there is to know, but if you haven’t tried these spirits for yourself, you won’t really know the difference in tastes and flavor profiles. So, what do we recommend you do?
Start by making your way over to Saucey. We carry Whiskey & Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Single Malt Scotch, Bourbon Whiskey, and much, much more. Under each category, you will find hundreds of options to choose from. Whether you have a specific brand in mind or you’re just looking for something new, we’re sure to have something for you to try.
If you have no idea what you’re looking for, that’s even better. Explore different brands to read more about them, and the specific flavor notes that make them stand out. Add a few different types to your cart. Maybe start by trying a whiskey from each category, so you cover all your bases. If you’re making cocktails, don’t forget we have mixers, bitters, simple syrup, and more to help you cross off everything on your list.
Need another reason to love Saucey? We deliver everything right to your door. You can click the option to have everything delivered as soon as possible or select a specific time that works the best for you. We’re all about convenience and making things easy. All that’s left to do now is wait. Once your order arrives, pour yourself a glass, and soon enough, you’ll be the next great whiskey, scotch, and bourbon aficionado.