All Scotches and Bourbons are whiskeys, but some whiskeys aren’t Bourbons, some aren’t Scotches, and no Scotches are Bourbons. Sound confusing? It’s actually pretty simple. Here’s what differentiates Bourbon from Scotch.


Bourbon whiskey was first distilled in Bourbon County, Kentucky, which gave the drink its name. For a whiskey to be a Bourbon, its mash (the grain mixture from which the drink is distilled), has to contain at least 51% corn. In addition, “The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, put into the barrel at 125 proof or less, and it must not contain any additives.” Finally, the mash has to be aged in a new charred oak barrel. If a whiskey is manufactured according to these guidelines, it’s considered a Bourbon.


Scotch whiskey is distilled from a mash with malted barley as its main ingredient. It’s made in Scotland, which is where its name comes from. The Scotch Whisky Association lays down the law for distilling Scotch, which has to be made entirely in Scotland and aged there in oak casks for at least three years and one day. Scotch has to be at least 80 proof. In addition, the barley that goes into many Scotch malts is usually dried using smoke from burning peat, which gives Scotch its distinct flavor. Finally, the Scots spell the word a little differently than we do in the U.S. Whereas here you would get a Bourbon Whiskey, in Scotland, you’d get a Scotch Whisky, with no “e”.

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