Whiskey — a name derived from the Irish-language phrase for “water of life” — is among the most popular alcoholic beverages worldwide.
Though there are many varieties, Scotch and bourbon are the most commonly consumed.
Despite their many similarities, they have notable differences.
This article explains the difference between bourbon and Scotch whiskey.
Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic drink made from fermented grain mashes. They’re typically aged in charred oak barrels until they reach their desired production age (1).
The most common grains used to make whiskey include corn, barley, rye, and wheat.
Bourbon whiskey, or bourbon, is primarily made from corn mash.
It’s only produced in the United States and, according to U.S. regulations, must be made from a grain mash that is at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak containers (1).
There is no minimum time period for bourbon whiskey to be aged, but any variety aged for less than four years must have the age stated on the label. That said, for a product to be called straight bourbon, it must be aged for at least two years (1).
Bourbon whiskey is distilled and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol (80 proof).
Scotch whiskey, or Scotch, is mainly made from malted barley.
To bear the name, it can only be produced in Scotland. There are two main types — single malt and single grain (2).
Single malt Scotch whiskey is made from only water and malted barley at a single distillery. Meanwhile, single grain Scotch whiskey is likewise produced at a single distillery but may contain other whole grains from malted or unmalted cereals (2).
Unlike bourbon, which has no minimum aging period, Scotch must be aged for at least 3 years in oak containers. Once ready, the whiskey is distilled and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol (80 proof) (2).
Bourbon and Scotch are types of whiskey. Bourbon is produced in the United States and mainly made from corn mash, while Scotch is produced in Scotland and typically made from malted grains, especially single malt Scotch.
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Though identical in terms of calorie and alcohol content, they’re produced from different grains. Bourbon is made from a grain mash that contains at least 51% corn, while Scotch whiskeys are typically made from malted grains (1, 2).
These differences give bourbon and Scotch slightly different taste profiles. Bourbon tends to be sweeter, while Scotch tends to have a more intense smokiness.
Bourbon and Scotch are identical in terms of nutrition. However, they’re made from different grains, which afford them slightly different taste profiles.
Benefits and downsides
Research suggests that moderate intake of whiskeys and alcohol, in general, may offer some benefits:
- Provide antioxidants. Whiskey contains several antioxidants like ellagic acid. These molecules help neutralize harmful free radicals. Research suggests that moderate whiskey intake may raise blood antioxidant levels (
- May reduce uric acid levels. Some research suggests that moderate whiskey intake may reduce high uric acid levels, which are a risk factor for gout attacks (
- May reduce your risk of heart disease. Moderate alcohol intake has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. That said, drinking too much alcohol can be harmful and raise your risk of this condition (
9, 10, 11).
- May promote brain health. According to some research, moderate alcohol intake may protect against brain disorders, such as dementia (
12, 13, 14).
Though a moderate intake of whiskey and other alcoholic beverages may have benefits, drinking too much can have detrimental effects on your health.
Here are some of the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol:
- Weight gain. A standard 1.5-ounce (43-ml) shot of whiskey packs 97 calories, so regularly drinking multiple shots could lead to weight gain (
- Liver disease. Drinking 1 shot of whiskey, or more than 25 ml of alcohol, daily can raise your risk of potentially fatal liver diseases, such as cirrhosis (
- Alcohol dependence. Research has linked regular heavy alcohol intake to a higher risk of alcohol dependence and alcoholism (
- Increased risk of depression. Research suggests that people who drink a lot of alcohol have a higher risk of depression than those who drink moderately or not at all (
- Increased risk of death. Excess alcohol intake significantly increases your risk of premature death, compared to moderate intake or abstinence (
To reduce your risk of these negative effects, it’s best to limit your alcohol intake to one standard drink per day for women, or two standard drinks per day for men (
One standard drink of whiskey is equivalent to a 1.5-ounce (43-ml) shot (
Moderate whiskey intake may offer some benefits. Still, drinking too much can have many negative health consequences.
How to enjoy whiskey
Whiskey is a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in many ways.
Most people drink whiskey straight or neat, which means by itself. It’s typically recommended to drink whiskey this way at first to get a better idea of its flavor and aroma.
That said, adding a splash of water can help bring out its more subtle flavours. Additionally, you can drink whiskey with ice, commonly known as “on the rocks.”
If you don’t like whiskey’s taste by itself, you can try it in a cocktail.
Here are some popular whiskey cocktails:
- Old Fashioned. This cocktail is made from a combination of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water.
- Manhattan. Made from a combination of rye or bourbon whiskey, bitters, and sweet vermouth (a type of fortified white wine), a Manhattan is typically served with cherries.
- Classic highball. This drink is made from any style of whiskey, ice cubes, and ginger ale.
- Mint julep. Typically served at derbies, a mint julep is made from a combination of bourbon whiskey, sugar (or simple syrup), mint leaves, and crushed ice.
- Whiskey sour. This cocktail is made from a combination of bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. It’s commonly served with ice and cherries.
- John Collins. Made similarly to a whiskey sour, this drink also contains club soda.
Keep in mind that many of these drinks contain added sugars and can pack a lot of calories. Like any alcoholic or sweetened beverage, it’s best to enjoy these drinks sparingly.
Whiskey is versatile and can be enjoyed in many ways, including straight (neat), with ice (“on the rocks”), and in cocktails.
The bottom line
Bourbon and Scotch are different types of whiskey.
They’re similar in terms of nutrition but have slightly different taste and flavor profiles, as bourbon is mostly made from corn mash, while Scotch is typically made from malted grains and has been aged for at least three years.
Whiskey can be enjoyed in several ways, including straight, with ice, or in a cocktail.
Though it may offer benefits in moderation, too much alcohol can harm your body.