difference between whiskey and bourbon

For lovers of good liquor, choosing between whiskey and bourbon is like choosing who you love more; to dad or mom. For the most fanatical, there is no color or you belong to one or the other, however, you have to be very clear about the differences between the two drinks.

Is whiskey and whiskey the same? What is the difference between a Scotch whiskey and an American whisky? Is scotch whiskey and bourbon the same? For lovers of these two drinks, there are many questions that accumulate. Although, in essence they may be the same, since they share origin, in reality they are two very different liquors.

Similar, but not the same: differences between bourbon and whiskey

In this sense, the differences already come from their origin. Since the whiskey is traditionally made in Scotland, although there is also a long tradition of Irish whiskey, which respects the Scottish production standards. On the other hand, bourbon originates from the United States and is much more versatile, so much so that, depending on the area in which it is made, it will have a different nomenclature and organoleptic profile.

Although in the glass both seem the same, in the elaboration they are also different. Scotch whiskey has a tradition of millennia, with strict standards for its production, since only barley is used , with which a high quality malt whiskey is obtained, with profiles that vary depending on the peat or the water that it adds. On the other hand, American whiskey or bourbon whiskey allow great variations of their recipe, since it is possible to find corn, rye or grain whiskey, obtaining a much broader profile.

In this sense, Scotch whiskey is traditionally made with three different types of grain: corn, rye or malted barley. However, the original recipe is the one made with barley, from which the best malt whiskeys are obtained. Instead, for bourbon you can use any type of grain, be it wheat or rye.

On the other hand, the whiskey liquor, once fermented, must be stored for a minimum of 12 years in oak barrels previously used for the manufacture of sherry or cognac. Instead, the barrels used for bourbon can be new or, as in the case of Jack Daniels, it is a Bourbon, whose oak barrels are specially roasted so that the liquor obtains a unique flavor.

The difference: the ingredients

The big difference between these two ways of seeing whiskey or whiskey lies precisely in the ingredients. In the case of Scotch, its main ingredient is malted barley. In this sense, some distilleries use a single malt and produce whiskeys called Single Malt. The Scots attach great importance to the main ingredient, so much so that the large distilleries have their own barley , from centuries-old vines, and they are the only ones that use it. Other brands, on the other hand, use barley mixed with another type of grain. These are called Single Grain.

On the other hand, the bourbon must have a minimum proportion of 51% corn and can be completed with any other cereal such as wheat, rye or barley.

These differences in ingredients also have an impact on the taste. In this sense, bourbon is sweeter , since corn is a coarse grain with a high sugar content. Scotch, on the other hand, has a more woody and smoky flavor, which is known among experts as “hard flavour”. 

On the other hand, in both cases the properties of the whiskey are the same, since only the flavor changes.

An ancient tradition

The first records of whiskey production in Scotland date back to Celtic times, when the Pictish tribes, specifically the druids and priests, produced this drink, which the first monks in the area would end up calling: water of life.

Much later, already in the 17th century and after the abbeys and monasteries had been in charge of making this drink for centuries, the king offered the first licenses to individuals for the production and marketing of Scotch whiskey throughout the world. At this time, the first large distilleries appeared, some of which have survived to this day.

Instead, bourbon is much younger, with the first distilleries appearing in the 18th century in the Bourbon area of ​​Kentucky.

smoked scotch whiskey

On the other hand, Scotch whiskey has a unique production process, which American spirits lack. This is the “smoking” process, for which Scottish peat is used and which gives it a unique, slightly smoky flavor.

In this context, the whiskeys from the Scottish area of ​​Islay have taken this smoky flavor to its maximum exponent. For example, Islay whiskey such as Lagavulin or Laphroig has a distinctly smoky flavor, with salty notes reminiscent of seawater or seaweed. These unique flavors come from the peat used in its production, which usually obtains unique properties due to its proximity to the sea.

On the other hand, no peat is added to bourbon. American whiskeys do not go through this smoking process, so all its flavor comes only from the barrel in which it rests. Some wineries, such as Jack Daniels, use toasted barrels, so that the liquid obtains smoky nuances.

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