The Differences Between Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch, Rye, and Brandy

There's no denying it, whiskey is the best liquor available. According to reports, it is only the only spirit where quality corresponds with a higher price. Other spirits like vodka and tequila have no correlation and you can get a quality vodka without shelling out $40 for Ciroc (thanks, Costco!). However, as the popularity of whiskey grows in the United States, the confusion and mystifying details of it grow as well. You may have wondered what exactly all the variations are when it comes to whiskey vs bourbon, scotch, rye, and brandy.

What are the Differences Between Bourbon vs Whiskey?

Whiskey is made from the fermented mash of cereal grains. Whiskey (or whisky, everywhere else in the world) is usually aged in oak barrels. The great thing about whiskey is the endless ways it is made and the variations that come with it. From Canada to Japan, there are many styles of whiskey with different flavor profiles and ABVs.

Blended whiskeys are a mixture of straight whiskey and mixed grain whiskey.  This type of whiskey is made to have a lighter taste than full-on whiskeys. Blended whiskey can also have a blend of two straight whiskeys. Other variations of whiskey include Scottish whiskey, Irish whiskey, American Whiskey (like Tennessee whiskey), and Canadian whisky.

Try It: The Old Fashioned

There's a reason why this drink is called the Old Fashioned and that's because it's a time-honored classic. The perfect parts boozy and smooth, it should be in your own rotation.

Get the full recipe here.

What is Bourbon Whiskey?

Bourbon whiskey is distilled from corn mash; specifically, a whiskey distilled from a mash containing at least 51 percent corn, the rest being malt and rye, and aged in new charred oak containers. The flavor profile consists of vanilla, oak, and caramel. It's great for mixing and remember, no flavors or additives are allowed in bourbon, which gives it a point in the bourbon vs whiskey debate for purists.

Try It: The Kentucky Cousin

This cocktail brings through flavors of cherry, lemon, and mint that pair so well with bourbon.

Get the full recipe here.

What is Rye Whiskey?

Along with the question of bourbon vs whiskey, many wonder about what sets rye whiskey apart. Whiskey that is distilled from a mash in which rye grain predominates to at least 51 percent. The flavor profile is spicy, grainy, and full-bodied. According to Thrillist, it's the edgier brother of bourbon. I prefer straight bourbon any day, but if you're into a little more kick, rye may be the way for you.

Try It: The Sazarec

This rye whiskey recipe from Bulleit for a Sazerec is so good, you might even forget there's absinthe in it.

Get the full recipe here.

What is Scotch Whisky?

Scotch is any whiskey made primarily of malted barley. Besides blended whiskey, I believe Scotch to be the fan-favorite in the land. If you're a fellow Scotch appreciator, here are a few fun facts about Scotch.

Scotland actually has more distilleries than in any country.  The most popular Scotch whiskies are the single malts. I remember trying some of my fathers Glenlivet and understanding that it is nothing like Crown Royal or Jack Daniels. The malted barley gives it a very distinct after taste.

To qualify a Scotch whiskey, it has to be distilled and matured in Scotland for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. They are distilled in copper pots which is expensive and explains the high price point. Single malt means that it is produced at one distillery.

Try It: The Penicillin

The Penicillin uses Scotch to its full advantage with honey, lemon, and ginger. One would argue that it's a fantastic cold-fighting cocktail, hence it's medicinal name.

Get the full recipe here.

What is Brandy?

Brandy is made from wine or fermented fruits. This brown liquor distilled and does not become better with age after bottling, contrary to popular belief. Brandy includes some of your favorites like Cognac.

In order for a brandy to be considered a cognac. it must come from the Cognac region in France. All Cognacs are brandies, but not all brandies are Cognacs.  The flavor profile reminds you of a burnt fruity wine. Along with just bourbon vs whiskey, there are many delicious dark liquors, each with their own flavors and distinctions.

Try It: The Hop Toad

The Hop Toad cocktail is a mix of lime, bitters, and apricot liqueur that makes for a sweet, yet tart take on brandy.

Get the full recipe here.

This post was originally published on September 6, 2019.