Bourbon vs Scotch: what’s the difference? Here’s a quick guide to the main differences between these types of whiskey (and some cocktails!).

Bourbon vs Scotch

Bourbon vs Scotch: what’s the difference? These two styles of whiskey could not be more different. Or should we say…whisky? Here’s what to know about the spelling differences, what makes each one unique, and a few popular cocktails to make with each one!

Bourbon vs Scotch: what’s the difference?

Bourbon and Scotch are both types of whiskey: the former is produced in America and the latter in Scotland. “Whisky” is the correct spelling for the Canadian and Scottish versions, whereas “whiskey” is the correct spelling for American and Irish-made versions. Here are the technical differences in production:

  • Bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and aged in oak barrels. The name bourbon comes from Bourbon Country, Kentucky: the region where the spirit was invented. Today over 95% of the bourbon produced is made in Kentucky.
  • Scotch is whisky made in Scotland from either barley or a mix of grains. There are several types of Scotch. The most common are Single malt Scotch, a whisky that’s from one distillery made from a mash of malted barley, and Blended Scotch, made by blending barrel-aged malt whisky and grain whisky.

The flavor: what does Scotch taste like vs bourbon?

Bourbon is considered easier to drink vs Scotch, which has a very distinct flavor. The breakdown in flavors is:

  • Bourbon whiskey has a sweeter, more mellow flavor than Scotch, with notes of vanilla, oak and caramel. But there’s a wide variety of different flavors between bourbon brands: one expert breaks bourbons into 4 major categories: grain forward, nutmeg forward, caramel forward, and cinnamon forward.
  • Scotch whisky has a sharp, distinct flavor that’s more of an acquired taste than bourbon. Blended Scotch is smoother: malty and buttery, with a spicy finish. Single malt Scotch tastes oaky and woody, with signature peaty and smoky notes. The level of smokiness is due to the time the barley is exposed to peat smoke during drying (peat is similar to moss that covers parts of Scotland).
Bourbon Manhattan

Ready to mix that whiskey into drinks? When it comes to cocktails, Scotch is such a distinct type of whiskey that it should be treated with care. Only use it in a cocktail that calls specifically for Scotch. On the other hand, bourbon can be used in cocktails that call for any variety of whiskey, and is often swapped into cocktails that call for rye whiskey (like a Manhattan). See Bourbon vs Rye for more.

Here are the most popular Scotch whiskey cocktails 

Some of the most popular bourbon cocktails are:

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Manhattan with Bourbon or Scotch


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Make a Bourbon Manhattan, or the Rob Roy: a Manhattan made with Scotch whisky! This booze-forward cocktail is a sophisticated way to enjoy a good Scotch.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon or blended Scotch whisky (for the Rob Roy)
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) sweet red vermouth
  • 3 dashes Angostura or orange bitters
  • For the garnish: Luxardo cherry or other cocktail cherry

Instructions

  1. Combine the bourbon or Scotch, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass (or any other type of glass). Fill the mixing glass with 1 handful ice and stir continuously for 30 seconds.
  2. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Bourbon vs Scotch

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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