What are the differences between a scotch and a bourbon?

by Luis Bobadilla

When we talk about whisky it’s clear to almost all of us that we are referring to a grain distillate of ancient origin, whose current name comes from the Gaelic and literally means “water of life.” However, the uninitiated in this exciting world, sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between the different varieties that, for different reasons, geographic or process of elaboration, we can currently find in the market.

In the case of the so-called Scotch, or Scotch whisky, the thing is clear: it is the one made in Scotland based mainly on malted barley and following the standards of the Scottish Whiskey Order, which establishes, among others aspects, that it must be aged in oak barrels with a capacity of less than 700 liters and for at least three years, without adding substances other than water or caramel as a coloring agent. In addition, when bottled, they cannot have a graduation of less than 40 degrees of alcohol by volume.

So far all clear, but it turns out that, in addition, the barrels where the Scotch is aged must have been previously used to contain bourbon. And, what is Bourbon then? It turns out that its elaboration is also regulated by law, in this case the American.

Then, according to the Bourbon Federal Identity Rules, in order to be able to denominate an alcoholic beverage like that, its must -the mixture of grains in which its distillation is based on- have to contain at least 51% of corn. The rest can generally be malted barley, rye or wheat. The must has to be distilled in the United States and shouldn’t include any additives.

Its aging must be in oak barrels, usually white oak, in the American state of Kentucky, but this is not a necessary condition since bourbon has been produced elsewhere for a long time. It’s precisely the county of Bourbon that has given its name to this distillate, and is different from other American whiskeys in the use of corn as the main ingredient, since others are made with rye for the most part, and also in the filtration process, which in the case of Tennessee’s whiskey, is made with saccharine maple carbon, which gives a different flavor and aroma to Bourbon despite sharing almost all the same processing.

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