Scotch vs. Bourbon: The War Burns Smoothly On

(Quick note from The Gentleman: Salutations Gents, allow me to introduce to you our new columnist D.Y. Gennings, aka The Guru. He was created in 1988, the product of an ambitious government experiment to fuse together samples of DNA taken from both Sean Connery and Frank Sinatra. As a child he was sent to a special boarding school where from infancy the boys were fed only rare steak and drank only Glengoulie Blue. Being a true man comes naturally to this fellow, and from now on you’ll be treated to weekly doses of The Guru’s wisdom on all things related to being the consummate gentleman. Soak it all in gents.)


Scotch vs. Bourbon

The War Smoothly Burns On


What is What?

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” – Mark Twain

All Dapper Gentlemen, young or old, should have a working knowledge and general understanding of the blessing that is whiskey. Unfortunately in today’s society the man-laws of what is choice hooch and what is not, have been undermined by fruity shots and warm cans of extra-light beers. I’m not saying these drinks don’t have their place but in keeping with the rules of being a gentleman, one should be able to at least appreciate a classy drink. So as we look into the world of whiskey (or should I say whisky) here are a few answers to common questions about that golden liquid you have had your eye on:

Q: What is the difference between Scotch and Bourbon?

A: Both Scotch and Bourbon are Whiskey’s, but rectangles aren’t always squares. They are branches of the larger category.

Bourbon whiskey generally has a narrower flavor profile. Because of the legality of what can go into it (51% sweet corn), it’s harder for distillers to achieve different flavors. Bourbon commonly smells syurpy and perfumed, and normally tastes a little sweeter than its cousin from across the pond with hints of caramel and vanilla. Bourbon has a certain sharp freshness that is unique to the drink. Bourbon usually doesn’t command quite the price that scotch does, but certain bottles can be quite expensive.

Scotch stands on the opposite end of the taste scale. Scotch is more often than not aged in pre-used bourbon barrels, smoked over bricks of peat or wood, and has a much more diverse pallet of flavor. Generally, scotches from the Islay region have a very strong peaty, smoky flavoring, while scotches from the Speyside region are much lighter, with hints of spice. Because of the variety in production processes, the leftover flavoring from the bourbon barrels, and the diversity of additives in Scotch; it is normally thought of as the more refined drink.


The Details:

Whiskey advertised or labeled as “bourbon”, refers to a whiskey that is strictly American made. Although it can be made anywhere in the US, the name refers to Bourbon County Kentucky (which ironically is a dry county), and the US legal requirements designated in 1964 that “bourbon” must be aged in new charred-white oak barrels, be made from a grain mix that is at least 51% corn, bottled at 80 proof, and be produced right here in the US of A. If the bourbon meets these criteria and has been aged for a minimum of two years, it can be called straight bourbon.

Scotch is generally thought of as whisky from Scotland. The spelling change of whiskey to whisky is not a typo. Scotland was so proud of its quality booze (as well as Canada & Japan), that they changed the word on all the bottles they manufacture. This is one easy way to pick out a real scotch. Also look for the exact word “scotch” (not Scottish), on the bottle to get the real McCoy. Scotch has its own set of legal rules for the production process but in very short form; it must be made from whole barely, & aged in oak-barrels for at least 3 years. The interesting thing about Scotch is that the flavors can drastically change from one bottle or brand to the next. Scotch is typically aged in old American bourbon barrels. So the scotch produced gets some flavor from the original bourbon barrel, some from the other spices added to the batch, as well as a variety of flavors from the different production processes. Scotch is usually distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times. Scotch is aged anywhere between 3-50 years.  

Q: Does it age in the bottle?

A: Nope, whiskey does not age in the bottle. Hard alcohol like whiskey or vodka is distilled, a process which kills/strains the yeast from the drink, so unlike beer or wine it will not be changing flavor. Remember the universal rule of thumb: the older the whiskey, the more it costs. You will easily be able to taste the difference between anything from a 10 year old up to a 20 yr., but if you’re drinking anything nicer than a 20 it will probably taste like candy.

Q: What is a single malt, single barrel, a blend, and why does it matter?

A: Single Malt- Whiskey made from one distillery (can be separate barrels). Single Barrel- Whiskey from literally one barrel, totally unique and rare. Blend – a bunch of single malts, single grains or other whiskey mixed together in one bottle. Typically blends have a milder flavor, a general taste, and are easier to drink. The flavor of a blend like Dewar’s or Crown Royal will not be a strong or as unique as a single malt or single barrel, but it will most likely be a little easier on the wallet.

Q: What is “Cask Strength”?

A: Cask Strength or “Barrel Proof”, means a much higher alcohol-by-volume percentage. Normally hard alcohol is bottled at 40% a.b.v., but these bottles will be anywhere from 50%-65% a.b.v. Mix these with a large splash of water!


Chug It?

“There is a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch.” – Lt. Archie Hicox, Inglourious Basterd.

A nice glass of whiskey should be sipped not shot; not that shots aren’t good (they do their job), but they can limit your drinking experience to the jump from sober to drunk, leaving little room for you to enjoy the ride.

Whiskey should always be served neat (straight) accompanied by the option of still filtered water and/or ice. This is always an area of debate for whiskey snobs. By diluting the whiskey slightly, some of the stronger characteristics of the drink are diminished to a level easier to understand and enjoy. If you are going to add to the drink go easy:  Ice: one or two cubes, Water: a splash. The other rule here is: if you boss is drinking it neat, so do you (while you’re with him/her). In the end whiskey is a drink meant to be enjoyed: drink it the way you like it.

To Strong For Me…

Don’t lie; there is something cool about that one guy who already knows his drink order before he even sits down. A dapper young gentleman should have a go-to drink of choice; something distinctive but not bizarre, intriguing yet sophisticated that says “hello” to those who see it. Fine whiskey is one of these drinks, but if you are just beginning to taste whiskey, you may want to try a few of these mixed drinks before ordering a double Talisker 10.

v        Old Fashioned

v        Sidecar

v        Manhattan

v        King Cole

v        Seven & 7

v        Whiskey Sour

v  J   John Collins (Whiskey Collins)

v        Whiskey Presby (Presbyterian)

v         Irish Coffee


What to Get?

So maybe you haven’t found your drink of choice yet, or maybe you have never truly appreciated a quality glass of booze and are looking for the starting line. Well grab a few of these bottles, have a few friends over, and enjoy.

Scotch Whisky:

v        Macallan 12

v        Balvenie 17 DoubleWood

v        Glenlivet 15 Frech Oak

v         Lagavulin 16

v         Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Bourbon Whiskey:

v        Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak

v        Blanton’s Original Single Barrel

v        Maker’s Mark 46

v        Angel’s Envy

v        Pappy Van Winkle