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What’s the difference between scotch and whisky?

scotch vs whisky - Ballantine's

The world of whisky is an exciting yet complex one. Be it bourbon or blend, scotch or single malt, or whisky or whiskey, the history, geography, and distillation process all play an important part in the definitions.

And whilst the terms scotch, whisky and whiskey might often be used interchangeably, they are all different. We’re here to set the record straight by explaining what sets Ballantine’s scotch whisky apart from others.

So, make yourself a whisky cocktail, get comfortable and let us take you on a trip around the globe to clear things up.

Whisky vs whiskey

Before we delve into scotch vs whisky, it’s necessary to first clarify what separates whisky from whiskey. Whilst the most obvious difference between whiskey and whisky is the extra ‘e’, the distinction between the two actually runs a little deeper.

Both whisky and whiskey are terms that describe a type of distilled alcohol made from grains and then aged in wood, but it is where they are produced that is important.

Generally speaking, whiskey refers to spirits that are made in the United States and Ireland. Whisky, however, is produced in Scotland, Canada, or Japan. Some brands are exceptions to this though, with both variations used in some countries.

The reason behind the difference in spelling isn’t clear-cut. Some theories suggest they are both translations of uisge beatha, the original name for whisky. Others believe that whiskey is used in Ireland and America due to the countries’ historical ties or that Irish distillers started adding an ‘e’ to differentiate their whisky from Scottish competitors.

Scotch vs whisky

When it comes to scotch vs whisky, all scotch is whisky but not all whisky is scotch. Scotch can only be labelled as such if it has been wholly produced in Scotland. What’s more, it must be made using only cereals, water, and yeast, matured for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks and bottled at a minimum strength of 40% abv. But whisky can be made anywhere in the world.

Scotch is produced all over Scotland but there are well-known whisky regions including Speyside, Islay, Highland, and Lowland. Here at Ballantine’s, we blend, age, and bottle our scotch whisky in Dumbarton which lies on the river Clyde and was once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. What we are trying to say is that we’re as Scottish as scotch comes.

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What are the similarities between scotch and whisky?

As scotch comes under the alcoholic umbrella of whisky, of course, there are some similarities. Both scotch and whisky are spirits made from grain using a distillation process. Being cask aged, they are also both a rich amber brown, a key characteristic of whisky’s identity.

Once ready to drink, scotch and whisky can be enjoyed on their own, served neat over ice, or combined with other alcohols and mixers in a variety of whisky cocktails. Classics like the whisky coke, Old Fashioned and Rob Roy are some of the best.

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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ballantines 12 rob roy drink

Rob Roy

For those in the know, a Rob Roy is simply a Manhattan made with scotch. But also, it’s the shot of Ballantine’s 12 that makes it a true Scottish legend.

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What’s the difference between scotch and whiskey?

So, we’ve established that when talking about whisky, the addition of one little ‘e’ can actually equate to thousands of miles and hundreds of years of heritage. Plus, we’ve pinpointed the small but very special section of the world that is responsible for every single bottle of scotch.

But there are so many whisky brands and varieties. How can they all be different? Well, the individuality of all Ballantine’s scotch whiskies comes from their carefully chosen ingredients, the way they are crafted and how they are aged. The same is true for whiskies worldwide.

There are many stages involved in how whisky is made including malting, mashing, fermentation, pot stills and distillation. It is the choices made at each phase that create the flavours and finish that characterise each whisky type. Granted, there’s a lot to it, but here’s a handy rundown of some of the key variations:

Types of whiskey

We’ve already explored the scotch vs whisky conundrum, so we won’t explain what defines scotch whisky again, but we thought it was worth highlighting some other whisky types:

Bourbon: Derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, Bourbon is an American whiskey. It must be made from at least 51% corn and be aged in new, charred oak barrels. 

Tennessee whiskey: As the name suggests, Tennessee whiskey must be produced in the American state of Tennessee. It is a type of bourbon which is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal before barrelling.

Rye whiskey: Rye whiskey can be made anywhere in the world but is mainly produced in America and Canada. In the United States, it must be made from a fermented mash of at least 51% rye grain.

Irish whiskey: This whiskey is only bottled in Ireland, and has a mixed base of malt, cereal grain, and barley. It has a three-year ageing process and undergoes a triple distillation process.

Japanese whisky: Produced in Japan, this whisky sometimes uses wood that isn’t found anywhere else on the planet and water from nearby mountains. Many Japanese distilleries import their ingredients from Scotland, but the finished beverage is said to be less peaty in flavour than scotch.

Canadian whisky: Many Canadian whisky distillers use a different process to American producers. Rather than mashing all grains together, in Canada they tend to mash, ferment, distil, and age each type of grain separately before combining the finished whiskies.

Types of scotch whisky

Single malt scotch: To qualify as a single malt, a scotch must have been distilled at one distillery and be made from a mash of malted barley. Like other scotch, it must be matured in oak casks for at least three years though many single malts, like Ballantine’s 15 year old single malt, are aged for much longer than this.

Single grain scotch: Like single malt, this scotch must be produced by a single distillery. The difference, however, is that this whisky variety doesn’t have to include malted barley and can be made from another grain such as rye or corn.

Blended malt scotch: Formerly called vatted malt, blended malt scotch is made by combining different single malt whiskies from two or more distilleries.

Blended grain scotch: A blend of two or more single grain scotches from various distilleries.

Blended scotch: Blended scotch whisky is made by blending barrel-aged malt whisky and grain whisky. Ballantine’s Finest, for instance, is a combination of more than 50 single malts and 4 single-grain whiskies.

THE DIFFERENCE IN TASTE BETWEEN SCOTCH AND WHISKY

If it wasn’t already apparent, whisky and scotch can vary dramatically depending on the ingredients, where it’s made, and the distillation process, among other things. This means that there can be a distinct difference in taste between scotch and whisky.

Scotch can have diverse profiles, with single malts offering a range of flavours from smoky and peaty when produced in the region of Islay, to fruitier and more floral if they are made in Speyside. Meanwhile, the term whisky encompasses a broader range from around the world, including bourbon, which is typically sweet and robust and Japanese whisky, which when aged in Mizunara oak barrels, can be spicy and deliver notes of sandalwood.

Ultimately, the taste of scotch and whisky is as individual as you are. No two whiskies are exactly the same so personal preferences play a significant role in discerning taste variations among different types of whisky and scotch.

WHICH IS BETTER, SCOTCH VS WHISKY?

Us answering this question is a little bit tricky. Our Scottish history and pride in the Ballantine’s range means we’re always going to champion scotch. We love its complexity, its versatility, and its range. But that’s not to say we don’t appreciate what other whiskies have to offer. With so many varieties available, there’s always going to be aromas, flavours and finishing to experience. When it comes to which is better, it ultimately boils down to personal preference and what you seek from each and every sip.

Now that you have all this whisky knowledge at your fingertips, all that’s left to do is to pick up a glass! If you’re a whisky novice, check out our beginner’s guide on how to drink whisky. Or if you already love a dram or two, try something new with our whisky sour variations. Why not find out how to host a whisky themed party and get your friends in on the fun too?

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