Find Out the Astonishing Difference Between Bourbon and Scotch — You Won’t Believe What We Found!



Whiskey covers a wide range of categories, including two of the best-known: America’s bourbon and Scotland’s Scotch. While they’re both distillates made from grain and aged in oak, the similarities end there. In fact, they don’t even spell whiskey the same way: Americans use whiskey with an “e” (as we’ll continue to do so here, to describe the overall universe of whiskeys), while Scotland goes with “whisky.”

As with any type of whiskey, “each is going to be influenced by the characteristics of the grain, the water, the yeast, the climate, the type of still used and the type of barrel it is matured in, in their respective countries,” says Lia Niskanen, founder of Barrel Strength Talent, a whiskey event company. Here are the main factors that differentiate bourbon and Scotch.

What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Scotch?

1. Location

“The big difference is where they are made,” says Niskanen. “Bourbon, by law, must be made in the United States (and not solely in Kentucky, contrary to popular belief) and Scotch must be made in Scotland.”

That said, not all American whiskeys are Bourbon(think rye, Tennessee whiskey, American single malts etc.).  But all whiskey made in Scotland is considered Scotch.

2. The Grains

In brief, bourbon is mostly corn, while Scotch is mostly barley. Of note, Scotch includes both malt whisky and grain whisky.

“Bourbon must contain more corn than any other grain (51% minimum),” says Robin Robinson, author of The Complete Whiskey Course. By comparison, “Scotch designates barley, and any other grain, setting up the difference between malt whisky type (barley only) and grain whisky type (any other grain—these days it’s mostly wheat) plus barley.”

3. Distillation Method

Scotch is allowed to be distilled to a higher strength than bourbon. That said, both whiskey types usually are diluted with water to bring them down to a palatable strength.

“Malt whiskeys are generally distilled to about 63% alcohol-by-volume (abv), and the grain whiskies of Scotland have a maximum limit of 94.8%,” notes Niskanen. By comparison, bourbon can be distilled no higher than an alcohol-by-volume (abv) of 80%, or 160 proof.

4. Aging

While both age in oak, the specifications of the container and aging times vary.

“Bourbon specifies [it must be] matured in a new, charred, oaken container but doesn’t give a minimum time period,” says Robinson. (However, of its own when it comes to aging—straight bourbon must be aged at least two years, bottled-in-bond bourbons must be aged at least four years, etc.).

Meanwhile, “Scotch whiskies must undergo a minimum three-year rest in an oaken container before it can be legally recognized,” says Robinson. Also of note: Scotch doesn’t require new barrels, and often is aged in used bourbon casks.

If you want to give both a try, here are our top-rated bourbon and Scotch bottles.

Top-Rated Bourbons

97 Points Wine Enthusiast


Nuanced vanilla and tropical fruit aromas introduce this blend of straight bourbons, aged from 6–16 years. The palate opens with brown sugar and mouthwateringly savory spices, cayenne and clove. Adding water dials in an espresso note, while a fleeting hint of pineapple emerges on the exhale.

$89 Total Wine & More

97 Points Wine Enthusiast


Concentrated caramel tinged with toffee and espresso leads the nose. The bold palate offers more of the same, though a splash of water adjusts the flavor to a more dry, leathery tone, finishing long with ginger, black pepper and tobacco highlights. Bottled in Bond. Fall 2021 Edition.

$560 Caskers

95 Points Wine Enthusiast


Look for rich toffee and mocha on the nose and palate, edged with clove and black pepper heat. A splash of water adds tinges of toasted gingerbread and butterscotch, finishing quite fiery. This is a limited edition launched in Nov 2021, made with 70% corn and 25% heirloom Red Turkey wheat grown in Ohio and purchased from Blue Oven Bakery, with the remaining 5% malted barley.


94 Points


Maple sugar aromas are accented by a rootsy, sarsaparilla-like hint. Add a splash of water to adjust to taste; the reward is burnt brown sugar and maple, drying to a complex finish that suggests baking spice, leather, and a fleeting espresso note. A versatile option to sip or mix. Launched June 2021.

$24 Total Wine & More

Top-Rated Scotches

93 Points Wine Enthusiast


As the Orchard name suggests, this Scotch is markedly fruit-forward by design. Expect a light gold hue and bright, fresh apple and pear aromas teased by a faint hint of peat smoke. The palate opens with vanilla and almond, plus hints of lemon cream pie. A splash of water releases a plume of peat smoke, leading into a mouthwatering salt-and-black-pepper finish. Blended malt Scotch.

$51 Total Wine & More

91 Points Wine Enthusiast


Honey and a resin-like aroma lead into a mellow palate that shows baked apples and dried apricot drizzled with honey. Adding water coaxes more cinnamon and clove, plus lemony acidity and a hint of vanilla custard. Best Buy.

$30 Total Wine & More

91 Points Wine Enthusiast


A distinct mesquite smoke note leads the nose of this Islay single malt. The ferocious palate opens with almond, spicy honey and peat smoke, plus a hint of barbecue sauce twang. Each savory sip finishes warming and intense, laced with eucalyptus, sea salt and cayenne. Released in 2020, this is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range.

$46 Total Wine & More

96 Points Wine Enthusiast


What’s in the bottle is a 12-year-old single malt aged in a combination of Sherry, bourbon and Port barrels. Expect a tawny hue and almond and fresh red apple aromas. The palate opens brisk and bold, showing caramel and baked apple flavors. A splash of water brings out mocha tones alongside cinnamon and ginger. Overall, this is a lightly sweet sipper, warming and delicious.

$63 Total Wine & More

93 Points Wine Enthusiast


This is a 12-year-old Scotch finished in Sherry casks for an additional three years. The result is a deep amber hue and dried cherry and cinnamon aromas. The palate opens with oak and dried fruit, finishing with dark cinnamon, cocoa, clove and a lively hint of lemon peel.

$135 Total Wine & More


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *