difference between scotch and whiskey

Is There a Difference between Scotch and Whiskey?

When you walk into your local liquor store, the first thing you’ll notice is the wide range of alcoholic drinks on display. If you look closer, the two main names you’ll notice are whiskey and scotch. So, you might be left wondering: Is there a difference between scotch and whiskey? This article discusses this concern in detail.

What Is Scotch?


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Scotch is a popular type of malt or grain whiskey that is often simply referred to as whiskey. Sometimes it can be a blend of both grain and malt whiskeys. But originally, all Scotch whiskey drinks were made from malted barley.

Scotch whiskey comes from Scotland. The first commercial distillery for scotch started in Scotland in the 15th century. The main ingredients of this whiskey were malted barley and water. But over time, commercial scotch distilleries introduced scotch whiskey made from rye and wheat.

By the 18th century, there are numerous scotch brands made from wheat and rye. Currently, there are more than 141 scotch whiskey distilleries in Scotland. The unique thing about scotch whiskey is that it is often aged straight away after distillation in oak barrels, where it’s allowed to sit for at least three years before it’s bottled and shipped to the stores.

If you check the bottle label of any scotch whiskey, you’ll notice that its age is displayed in numerical format. This number shows the age of the youngest whiskey used to brew the drink. This type of whiskey is commonly referred to as guaranteed-age whiskey.

Any scotch whiskey without an age statement is known as a no-age-statement (NAS) whiskey. The only guarantee you have is that the whiskey in that bottle is at least three years old. Some scotch whiskeys are decades old.

However, you need to understand that scotch whiskey doesn’t age in the bottle. Therefore, even if you kept a 10-year-old bottle of scotch for 100 years, it will remain a 10-year-old scotch. Fortunately, scotch doesn’t deteriorate over time, even when it’s opened, as long as it doesn’t come into direct contact with the sunlight.

According to the latest alcohol brewing and bottling regulations in Scotland, the minimum alcohol content per bottle of scotch whiskey is 40 percent by volume. There are five main categories of scotch whiskey: single grain, single malt, blended scotch (previously known as vatted malt or pure malt), blended grain, and blended malt scotch whiskeys.

Scotch whiskey was first mentioned in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland in 1494. A unit of scotch whiskey is commonly referred to as a dram. In 2009, the United Kingdom passed the Scotch Whiskey Regulations 2009 (SWR) Act, which defines and regulates the brewing, labeling, packaging, and advertising of scotch whiskey in the country. The act replaced the previous guidelines that only focused on brewing, especially the Scotch Whiskey Act of 1988.

The SWR Act of 2009 offers broader demarcations and requirements for brewing, bottling, labeling, branding, promoting, and crafting scotch whiskey. Some of the regulations included in this act define scotch whiskey as:

  • Any whiskey with a minimum alcoholic strength of 40 percent by volume
  • Whiskey that doesn’t have added substances, save for water and plain caramel coloring
  • Whiskey produced in Scotland using malted barley and water
  • Whiskey that has been fully matured in oak casks at a Scottish exercise warehouse
  • Whiskey with the color, taste, and flavor of the raw materials for maturation

What Is Whiskey?


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Also referred to as whisky, whiskey is a distilled alcoholic drink brewed from fermented grain mash. This beverage can be made from a variety of grains, including barley, wheat, rye, and corn. Most whiskey brands are aged in oak casks to give them their unique flavors.

Most distilleries use charred white oak casks to age their whiskeys. But some still use the uncharred white oak barrels that were previously used to age port, sherry, and rum. Please note that whiskey is a regulated global spirit with various classes and styles.

However, all classes and styles of whiskey have several unifying traits, including the fermentation of grain mash, the distillation process, and the aging process. The term whiskey is an Anglicization of the Classical Gaelic word uisce, which means water. In Latin, distilled alcohol was referred to as aqua vitae, meaning the water of life.

It is widely believed that the first whiskey distillation was practiced in the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia by the Babylonians. However, this theory has been subject to disputed interpretations. Some historians dispute this theory arguing that the earliest distillation was done in Greek in the 1st century AD. They further claim that Greeks used this process to distill chemicals, not alcohol.

Others claim that the first distillation of alcohol happened in Italy in the 13th century when brewers distilled alcohol from wine. However, there’s no dispute about the arrival of alcohol distillation in Ireland and Scotland in the 15th century. Initially, the Irish and Scottish distillers brewed spirit alcohol mainly for medical use.

In Ireland, the first mention of whiskey came from the Annals of Clonmacnoise, which attributed the death of a chieftain in 1405 to consuming too much aqua vitae on Christmas day. In Scotland, whiskey was first mentioned in the Exchequer Rolls for 1495, where malt was sent “To Fair John Cor by the king to make aquavitae that were large enough to produce 500 bottles.

Distillation of whiskey is made of copper to help it remove sulfur-based compounds from alcohol. If these compounds are left in the alcohol, the whiskey would have an unpleasant taste. Most whiskey distilleries use a standard distillation tool referred to as a pot still.

This still comes with one heated chamber and a container to collect the distilled alcohol. Some distilleries are now using column stills to brew grain whiskeys. These stills are mainly used in the production of American whiskeys.

When it comes to aging whiskey, distillers only use wooden barrels. As mentioned above, you can’t age your whiskey in a bottle. Therefore, aging is the period the drink takes in the cask after distillation.

Although whiskeys that have stayed in the bottle for many years have a shortage value, they aren’t older than the age indicated on their labels. Furthermore, keeping your whiskey in the bottle for many years doesn’t necessarily make it better than recently brewed whiskey.

What Is the Difference Between Whiskey and Scotch?

Whiskey and Scotch

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From the information provided above, it’s clear that scotch and whiskey mean the same thing. However, several differences exist between the two terms that you should be aware of. For instance, whiskey is the broad term for distilled grain mash that has been aged in wooden casks for a specific period.

Scotch, on the other hand, is the term used to refer to whiskey distilled and aged in Scotland. Moreover, scotch whiskey has unique specifications that must be met for it to qualify to be referred to as scotch. For instance, it must have been distilled for not less than three years in an oak barrel at a Scottish distillery or warehouse.

Scotch whiskey also has a rich history and customs that make it special. Basically, scotch is a different subcategory of whiskey brewed according to various local customs, regional distinctions, and legal restrictions.

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