When it comes to alcohol and spirits and their differing names and “categories,” it can get more than a little confusing (such is the case with the Scotch versus whiskey conundrum). Seriously, for those who aren’t liquor connoisseurs, it’s difficult to understand what the difference is between the two. But as with anything, let’s start with the basics: Whiskey is a distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash—often barley or rye—that’s frequently aged in a wooden cask (the cask is responsible for both its unique color and taste). Whiskey is the global term for the beverage—it can be made in any country—while Scotch has to be made in Scotland. And if you have any doubts about how much the Scots are proud of their Scotch, I spent a semester studying abroad in Edinburgh, and I can definitely attest.
We’ve rounded up how to tell the difference between Scotch and whiskey below. Study up and you’ll never confuse the terms again.
How did whiskey come to be?
If you like this iconic drink, then you should thank the monks for its creation (we’re serious). The beverage dates back to 1000 to 1200 AD when traveling monks brought a distilled form of alcohol into Scotland and Ireland. Since vineyards and grapes were not indigenous to either country, the Scottish and Irish monasteries began fermenting grain mash instead. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII did away with the monasteries, leaving a ton of monks who needed jobs, so they started distilling for a living, and the consumption of the beverage went mainstream.
Comes From: Any country (whiskey is the global form of the beverage).
Made From: Fermented grain (barley, corn, rye, wheat).
Of Note: Types include Scotch, Irish, grain, single malt, blend, bourbon, rye, and corn.
Tastes Like: They all vary. Irish whisky is smooth, bourbon is sweet with a subtle smokiness, and we’ve already covered Scotch.
Labels You’ll Love: Jack Daniel's, Johnnie Walker, Glenmorangie, The Macallan.
Comes From: Scotland. It's both distilled and matured there
Made From: Primarily malted barley (whereas bourbon is made from corn).
Of Note: It has a signature “bite”—it's not for everyone.
Tastes Like: Burnt rubber (kind of). That’s because it has a hint of peat, a type of turf unique to the area made from partially decayed vegetables.
Labels You’ll Love: Chivas Regal, Dewar’s Signature, Buchanan’s, Johnnie Walker.
Stock Your Bar Cart
Did you know the difference between Scotch and whiskey? Do you have a favorite type of whiskey? Be sure to tell us in the comments.
Up next: Urban Outfitters' best-kept secret.