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Whisky vs vodka: what’s the difference?

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Arguably two of the most popular alcoholic drinks, vodka and whisky can be found behind any bar and are the key ingredients in some of the most famous cocktails in the world. They are both distilled spirits and can be produced in any country. They can even be made from the same grains such as wheat and rye.

And whilst they do have a few other similarities, there is plenty that makes them distinct from one another. And it’s about time we talked you through the differences between vodka and whisky, so read on to find out in our go-to guide. By the end, you’ll be in the know as to why a classic Cosmopolitan wouldn’t be the same without vodka and why only whisky will do for a Rob Roy.


If you were to place a glass of whisky and a glass of vodka side by side, it’d be easy to tell them apart. After all, vodka is clear, like water, whilst whisky is characterised by a beautiful amber hue.

They are, however, similar in consistency. Each fluid moves in much the same way, meaning there isn’t a noticeable difference in how they pour from a bottle or swirl in a glass.


The taste differences between whisky and vodka will depend on the brand and the nuances in each variety’s production. However, there are some generally agreed on remarks about their flavours.

For instance, vodka is often described as having a subtle taste and it used to be defined by The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as a neutral spirit without ‘distinctive character, aroma, taste, or colour’.

Whisky, on the other hand, is considered to be muskier, with a more robust and rich flavour. Its tastes and aromas vary depending on where and how it is produced but common descriptors of whisky include smoky, fruity, nutty, peaty, oaky, sweet, and spicy.

Production method

Both vodka and whisky are produced via a method called distillation, but the ingredients used and the steps in the production process differ.

Vodka can be made from any starch. This can come from grains including corn, rye, and wheat, or potatoes, molasses, rice or even soybeans. The chosen ingredients are fermented before being heated to high temperatures in a vessel called a still.

After heating the still, the liquid vaporises, and the droplets are collected. This liquid becomes the vodka we drink after being diluted with water and bottled. Vodka can be distilled multiple times and the more times it is distilled, the smoother the finished spirit will be. Vodka can be distilled anywhere from twice to ten times or more.

The ingredients used to create whisky include barley, corn, rye and wheat and these grains may or may not be malted. To produce whisky, fermentation and distillation also occur. One key difference in the production of whisky compared to vodka, however, is the ageing process. To be considered a whisky, the spirit must be matured in a wooden cask for a minimum of three years before being bottled.

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Whisky Guide

What exactly makes whisky, Scotch? What goes into making whisky, and what makes Ballantine’s whisky so, well, yummy anyway?

Learn more

Whisky vs vodka-producing countries

The origins of vodka are somewhat debated but it is believed this colourless spirit was invented over a thousand years ago in Russia and Eastern Europe. The first documented production of vodka occurred in the 9th century in the region, but the first known distillery is said to have been situated in the Russian town of Khylnovsk in 1174.

Vodka production is still incredibly popular in Europe and due to this, an area of the continent has become known as the Vodka Belt. The Vodka Belt includes countries such as Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, and Sweden. In these countries, vodka is an important part of their culture. However, vodka can be produced anywhere.

Whisky can also be produced worldwide but there are some well-known whisky-producing regions. Scotch whisky, like Ballantine’s, can only be labelled as such if produced in Scotland, for example. Canada, India, Ireland, America, and Japan are also known for their distilleries. The whole whisky vs whiskey conundrum comes into play due to this geography but that’s another lesson for another day.

Whisky vs vodka cocktails

So now we know more about the humble beginnings of vodka and whisky, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what this means when it comes to actually drinking them.

Vodka is a favourite for cocktails because of its neutrality. It makes a great spirit base that can be layered with other ingredients. Basically, it can enhance the boozy flavours without being the star of the show. Popular vodka cocktails include the Bloody Mary, White Russian, Screwdriver and Espresso Martini.

But with whisky cocktails, the intention is not to hide the flavour of the liquid. Instead, the idea is to complement the complexities of the whisky with carefully chosen mixers, juices, and other alcohol. We (unsurprisingly) prefer this – if you’re going to shake up a cocktail you might as well enjoy the flavours of your chosen spirit. 

Some of the most popular whisky cocktail recipes have very few ingredients. A whisky coke, for instance, has just three; whisky, cola, and a lime wedge. Its simplicity is what makes it perfect. The same goes for an Old Fashioned. The addition of just orange bitters and cane sugar allows the sweet notes of the whisky to sing. With that said, whisky is also complimentary to more complex drinks, adding a smooth warmth to cocktails such as summer pitcher or our beloved Berry Beer.

ballantines finest summer pitcher drink

Summer Pitcher

Summer time, and the living’s pitchin’. Add lemon slices and halved green grapes, Ballantine’s Finest, fresh lemon juice, Lillet Blanc, and top with Lemonade. Give it a good stir and pour out a round.

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ballantines B7 old fashioned

Old Fashioned

Our favourite way to enjoy an Old Fashioned is with Ballantine’s 7 Bourbon Barrel Finish, with a couple of dashes of orange bitters to complement the sweet notes of the whisky.

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Do vodka and whisky mix well?

Vodka and whisky are both enjoyed on their own, served in a shot glass or neat over ice. Yet, when combined, they can create some fantastic cocktails.

A cold brew cocktail, for example, is a great way to merge a whisky cocktail with a vodka-based classic. The inclusion of blended scotch whisky adds a touch of spice and notes of chocolate but you can also add vodka to make it more like an espresso martini.

Our cranberry whisky sour is another cocktail that can work well with the addition of vodka. This is because both orange and cranberry are classic flavour pairings for vodka.

What we are really trying to say is that it doesn’t have to be whisky vs vodka; they can be enjoyed together. Our whisky cocktail recipes can give you some ideas to get started. Also, check out our light whisky cocktails and apple whisky drinks for more inspiration. 

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How to drink Ballantine’s blended and single malt scotch whisky

There’s no wrong way to drink Ballantine’s whisky. But if you’re after a bit of guidance then read on, as we share how to drink Ballantine’s whisky, your way.

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How to Become a Better Bartender

If you’re looking for help in becoming a great home bartender, our guide is for you.

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You already know we’ve nailed the Finest Whisky to ever grace a glass. But that’s just a little drop of what we’re about. Scroll on for the latest news and features from across the world of Ballantine’s whisky, True Music and much, much more.



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