Understanding the Difference Between Two Great Whiskies…
There are certain whisky enthusiasts who will argue that there is no argument when it comes to what type of whisky is the best. Scotch nuts oft believe they are the authority when it comes to quality, since whisky was “invented” in Scotland (which isn’t necessarily true). On the flip side, many bourbon drinkers consider their smoother, sweeter concoction to be a more evolved drink, one that supports the high refinement of horse races and burnt wood.
The truth of the matter is that the two whiskies shouldn’t even be competing. Other than a similar distillation process, they are completely different. Here are three reasons why:
Since wood from the barrels in which whisky is aged is what provides the majority of its flavour and colour, this one is important. Bourbon has laws dictating that it can only be aged in brand new barrels that have been charred on the inside (typically that wood is oak, but not exclusively).
Charring the barrels on the inside helps make them water tight, but it also results in a sweeter, vanilla flavour. That flavour permeates the bourbon as it ages, giving it a distinct taste. After the barrels are used once, they are usually shipped off to make other whiskies, including scotch. The bourbon aging wicks most of the sweetness away from the wood, so scotch producers are able to get a different, often smokier taste (which is imbued into the spirit during the drying of the barley). Scotch producers typically use a barrel multiple times.
The biggest difference between scotch and bourbon is the grain. For whisky to be officially deemed bourbon, it needs to be made using at least 51% corn – by law (the Bottle Bond Act of 1897 made it so).
With scotch, the main grain is barley and it has always been so. Sometime between the 12th and 14th century, monks and medicine people were in the habit of distilling just about anything they could get their hands on and calling it aqua vitae, which translates to “water of life.” During the era, there was an abundance of barley, since the most popular boozy drink at the time was barley beer. Monks threw a bunch of barley in a pot, distilled it and, boom, scotch whisky was born.
This one is simple: scotch comes from Scotland and bourbon comes for the US. Contrary to what some people think, any continental state can produce bourbon, although Kentucky and the American south are usually considered the home turf.
Long Story Short…
So the answer to the question about one being better than the other is really, why argue? Bourbon and scotch, although they are both whiskies, are two totally different drinks. It’s like asking someone to defend why a kiwi fruit is better than a grapefruit. It doesn’t make sense. It all comes down to taste and preference – and the most important thing about a whisky is that you have one in front of you, so let’s worry about that first.