What Is The Difference Between Scotch, Bourbon & Rye?

Difference Between Scotch Bourbon And Rye

Scotch, bourbon, and rye are all whiskeys that have become extremely popular as of late. These spirits are typically made from grains and distilled to an alcohol content between 40% and 90% ABV (80-100 g/L) before being aged in oak barrels for a few years or more and reaching a concentration of 40-60%. Each type of whiskey has its distinctive flavor profile. So, it’s important to know what you’re buying from a quality liquor store before you put your money down.

Scotch Is Made From Malted Barley

Malted barley is a grain that has gone through the malting process. This process involves germinating the grain in a damp environment to begin to sprout, then drying it so it can be ground into flour. Once this flour is produced, brewers add yeast and water to ferment the liquid into beer before distilling it down into Scotch whisky.

It’s worth noting that if you’re buying blended Scotch whisky, the most popular kind of Scotch available, you’ll likely get two different types of whisky in your bottle: grain and malt. Grain whiskies are lighter-colored than malts and typically have less flavor. But as blends, they can contribute fruity or spicy notes depending on what else has been added to them during aging.

Bourbon Has Corn As The Primary Ingredient

To be called bourbon, a spirit must be made from at least 51% corn and stored in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of three years. The barrels impart a smoky flavor and color to the bourbon, which undergoes an aging process.

Spirits made from wheat instead of corn are known as whiskey because they didn’t start as “bourbon.” They can be any combination of grains but most often include barley, rye and wheat. Whiskies must also meet the same requirements as bourbons: they’re triple-distilled to remove impurities before being stored in oak barrels for about two years (with some exceptions).

Rye Comes From Rye Grain

Rye whiskey has been popular even longer than bourbon or scotch. It was developed by colonists who used what was available locally rather than import ingredients from across the ocean or build distilleries from scratch as their Scottish brethren did. Rye is typically distilled five times before being aged in charred wood containers for about one year. However, there’s no strict standard regarding how long you have to age your spirit to qualify as rye whiskey.

What Makes Scotch Special?

Scotch whiskey is the most popular type in the world, and it must be made in Scotland to be called such. It is often aged in oak barrels for at least three years, although some single malts can age for decades or centuries.

Scotch comes primarily from two main ingredients: barley or wheat grain (although some blends use corn). The grain can be distilled multiple times to create different types of scotch: single malt or blended malt; single grain or blended grain; malt whiskey infused with various flavors like honeydew melon (like Chivas Regal Royal Salute) or chocolate (like Bowmore Legend).

Bourbon Is Made In The United States

If a distillery in New York wants to make bourbon, it can do so as long as it adheres to all other provisions of being able to label itself as bourbon. This happens very rarely, though; most of what people think of when they hear “bourbon” comes from Kentucky (and 95% of it comes from there).

Rye Is Similar To Bourbon

Rye is distilled from a mash that contains 51 percent rye aged in charred, new oak barrels for at least two years. Rye whiskey has a spicy, mellow flavor, making it unique from other whiskeys.

Like bourbon and scotch, rye must also be aged in charred, new oak barrels but can be distilled to the utmost of 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume).


A quality liquor store has a variety of whiskey, but it’s not hard to understand their differences.


Hannah Gilbert

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