What’s the Difference Between Scotch, Bourbon, Whisky, and Whiskey?

July 19, 2022 2 Comments

What’s the Difference Between Scotch, Bourbon, Whisky, and Whiskey?

We are so lucky to live in a world that not only has whiskey, but also has a long list of different versions of it so everyone can choose their favorite. In our opinion, we welcome all forms of distilled alcohol and wouldn’t dream of picking and choosing, but we get that some people have favorites. And for those of you who like to drink but have no idea why there'sScotch, Bourbon, Whisky, and Whiskey, they look kinda similar, taste similar to the untrained palate, but have different names, this article should clear up some of your confusion.

What's the Difference Between Whiskey and Whisky?


Before we get into any details about Scotch and Bourbon, it’s time we settled the age-old debate: is there a difference between Whiskey and Whisky? Some non-experts are entirely convinced it’s just a spelling issue, and the two words mean exactly the same thing. We, however, have the real answer: it’s a spelling issue. Ah! But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a difference. If you see a Whiskey spelling – with an e –, that’s the spelling used in the United States and Ireland. Whisky – no e – is the commonly used spelling in Scotland, Canada, and Japan. So both spellings are correct and have to do with the place of origin and techniques that differentiate both spirits. 

If we go back in history real quick to where it all began, we can find a reason for this confusing similarity in spelling. Whiskey/Whisky derives from a Gaelic term that literally means “water of life” – yep, they knew what they were talking about – and the Scottish and Irish translations of the Gaelic word are different. Additionally, the Irish wanted to differentiate their product from the Scottish version (considered lower quality at that moment) so they stuck to their slightly different spelling. That's why we've got scotch whisky and Irish whiskey. 

Now that we’ve settled that issue, on to the next debate:

What’s the difference between Scotch and Bourbon?

It’s a good thing you’ve been reading this article and are already on your way to becoming a cocktail expert. By the way, part of becoming a whiskey fan is looking the part. You should seriously consider getting yourself a Whiskey Business Hoodie, just so people know you know what you’re talking about when it comes to drinks, ya know?

But anyway, back to the point. Now that you know the difference between whiskey and whisky, the difference between Scotch and Bourbon is pretty self-explanatory. Scotch is, of course, Scottish – so whisky –, and Bourbon is Irish – so whiskey. Ok, ok, there’s a little more to it though.

What Makes It Bourbon

The first important piece of information about Bourbon whiskey is that it’ll almost always be made in Kentucky. Can it be made in other states? Yes. But it will always be known as a Kentucky drink. What differentiates bourbon from other spirits is specifically linked to the distilling process. Not to get too technical on you, but the mixture of grains from which bourbon is distilled contains at least 51 percent corn. The mixture is distilled at 160 proof or less and should be stored in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less, without any additives. Bourbon lovers – we got you:show the world you know how to choose your drink.

 What makes it Scotch?


This one is easier: in order for scotch to be scotch, it must be scotch. Sorry, was that confusing? Scotch must be made in Scotland. Scotch ages for at least three years in oak barrels, similar to bourbon, but the distinct scotch taste – called peated taste – comes from the barley germination process.

Scotch also has many different types, depending on specific distillation elements.

You’ve got:

  1. Blended Scotch whisky: Grain Scotch whisky and malt Scotch whisky combined into blended whisky.
  2. Scotch eighteen-year-old whisky: this Scotch ages for eighteen years in oak barrels.
  3. Cask-strength Scotch: This Scotch goes directly from the cask into a bottle, so no aging. No additional steps, no additional flavors. Just scotch.
  4. Single malt Scotch whisky: This variation comes from one specific distillery and uses malted barley for the mixture. About ten percent of all Scotch whisky spirits are single malts, making single-malt whisky pretty rare.
  5. Single grain Scotch whisky: Not to be confused with single-malt. To make single-grain Scotch whisky, the whole process has to happen at one distillery. This variation has a base of water and malted barley, as well as malted or unmalted cereals, to produce a blended malt.

We made our own categorization of scotch that you can wear on your new favorite t-shirt:  I love Scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch tee.

I Love Scotch. Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch T-Shirt

Final run-down

Ok, so summing all this information up: we’ve got whiskys and whiskeys – that’s Scottish and Irish. Then, Bourbon is whiskey; Scotch is whisky. Irish immigration made it so that whiskey was the popular drink in the US. That’s why Kentucky bourbon is whiskey, not whisky. Main differences between the drinks?

  • They have different flavors.
  • They're made with different ingredients.
  • They come from different places.
  • They have different production requirements.
  • They go through different aging processes.

However, despite many differences between the two drink families, there’s so much shared culture and tradition between whisky and whiskey that we love to celebrate. Getting to know the history, the specific distillation processes, and what makes these spirits a favorite cocktail for people all over the world makes you appreciate them so much more. If you’ve read all the way down to here, it might be time for a drink, no matter how it’s spelled. It also means you’re a whiskey fanatic and really need to check out our whiskey apparel so no one ever doubts that fact. Check out our collection of whiskey t-shirts here.

Drinking Collection


2 Responses

John McRae
John McRae

September 03, 2022

Only comment I have is that Scotch does NOT have to be distilled in Scotland. Some fine scotches actually come feom Japan. Not as good as from Scotland in my opinion.

Teddy R
Teddy R

August 22, 2022

Thanks for that good information, it truly has increased my knowledge. A week ago I asked an old Jamerson Drinker what was the difference ? That bastard said it was complicated ! Simply say you do not
Know !

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