In the world of quality liquor scotch vs whiskey vs whisky is, literally, a debate of taste. The term whiskey (or whisky) refers to distilled spirits made from fermented grains and barrel-aged. So, while everything we discuss in this article is a whisky, there are some unique differences that set them apart enough to be a scotch or even a bourbon.
Knowing the differences between these types of liquors can be the difference between sending your VIPs a ‘nice’ gift and one that truly impresses them. However, it can be a tricky world to navigate. Below we’ve put together answers to some of the most common questions to help you navigate the wonderful world of whisky, even if it isn’t your drink of choice.
Is it Whiskey or Whisky?
The words whisky or whiskey both come from the Gaelic term usquebaugh – which translates to “water of life.” The difference between them largely has to do with Scottish versus Irish translations. Many places in the world use the two spellings interchangeably.
To help guide you in your purchase of quality spirits for your VIPS, most Irish and American brands use the spelling whiskey. While Scotland, Canada, Japan, and large parts of the EU use the spelling whisky. However, this isn’t a hard rule, so you’ll want to ensure that you do your due diligence when checking a brand’s origin. Especially if you know your recipient prefers whiskey from a specific region.
The short version, you can use whichever spelling you prefer.
Scotch vs Whiskey vs Whisky – What Are They Made Of?
The process of making a scotch vs whiskey vs whisky impacts the quality and flavor of the spirit dramatically. Knowing a bit about the difference can help you chat up your VIPs and impress them with your knowledge of their favorite spirits. Better yet, it can help you get just the right product to impress them.
Whiskey vs Whisky
However you spell it, all whiskey has the same base components. Those who make whiskey or whisky use fermented grains: barely, rye, and wheat most predominantly. After making the mash it goes through the distillation process. The distilled liquid must age for 3 or more years in a cask.
Generally speaking, the longer the age in the cask, the rarer the whiskey. However, aging isn’t the only factor in flavor or popularity. There are other factors to consider, such as how the whiskey is ultimately combined. Below is a quick guide to the varieties:
- Single Malt – is whiskey from a single distillery that uses on particular malted gain. Unless the bottle specifies otherwise, these bottles may still be blends of many casks of the same kind of single malt whiskey.
- Blended Malt – this is a whiskey that is a mixture of single malt whiskeys from different distilleries.
- Blended – this is a whiskey that is a mix of different kinds of whiskey from many distilleries. The goal is to create a large batch uniform in flavor.
- Single Barrel or Single Cask – this is a whiskey that is bottled from one individual cask. These bottles are often marked with the specific barrel and bottle number.
- Double Barrel – this is a whiskey that has aged in two different barrels. Creating exciting layers of flavor and a complex final product.
- Small Batch – considered to be some of the higher-end whiskeys. These are made from a very small selection of whiskey barrels that are picked out for how their flavor profiles will blend together.
- Cask Strength – these are considered some of the rarest whiskeys. They are bottled straight from the cask with very little to no dilution.
Not all whiskey is scotch, but all scotch is whiskey. This is why you’ll sometimes see scotch called scotch whiskey, don’t worry they are the same. To be called a scotch, the alcohol must be entirely produced in Scotland. Along with that, scotch must also have a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% or 80 proof. All scotch must be aged in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years. Beyond that, like with whiskey, there is room for mixing. Below is a quick rundown of the labeling terms for scotch and what they mean:
- Single Malt – a scotch distilled in a single distillery using a mash that is 100% malted barley.
- Blended Malt – a scotch that is a blend of two or more malt scotches from different distilleries.
- Single Grain – in this instance, single refers to the fact that this is a scotch made at a single distillery. It uses cereal grains along with malted barley. This creates unique and bold flavors.
- Blended Grain – a scotch that is a blend of two or more single-grain scotches from different distilleries.
- Blended – a scotch that is a blend of one or more single malt scotches with one or more single grain scotches.
When it comes down to it, each of these is just a matter of taste. If your VIPs let it slip that they are a scotch fan, make sure you ask them what type or brand so you know exactly what scotches to surprise them with in the future.
What’s the Difference Between Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon?
Both scotch and bourbon are whiskeys. However, that’s where the similarities end. Like scotch, bourbon has its own set of rules. Bourbon must be made in the United States. In addition to this, aging must occur in a new charred oak barrel, and for straight bourbon, it must be aged at least 2 years. The grain mixture must be at least 51% corn and can be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by value, or 160 proof.
- Straight – bourbon that is aged at least 2 years and has no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits.
- Bottled-in-bond – a straight bourbon that has aged for at least four years.
- Blended Bourbon – contains at least 51% straight bourbon, but may also contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits.
- High Rye Bourbon – this isn’t a legally defined term, but it is one used by bourbon lovers. It usually means a bourbon with between 20% and 35% rye. These produce a unique in-your-face flavor.
As a special note, a bourbon aged less than 3 years cannot legally be referred to as whiskey or whisky in the EU. When impressing a bourbon lover, it’s good to send them a bourbon gift that includes a few snacks to go with it. There’s just something about a smooth glass of bourbon and snacks, like olives or cheese, that makes for an unforgettable combination.
Which Scotch vs Whiskey vs Whisky vs Bourbon Should I Send as a Corporate Gift?
In the battle of scotch vs whiskey vs whisky vs bourbon, there are no clear-cut winners. Everyone has their own taste, and impressing your VIP is a matter of knowing theirs. However, a high-quality imported bottle of whiskey is always sure to impress.
If you aren’t sure exactly what your VIP likes, make a game of it by rotating what you send: a whiskey, a scotch, then a bourbon. Or, if you’re celebrating something substantial, send a custom gift basket that includes a bottle of each.
Remember, corporate gifts are about building relationships with your employees, partners, and other VIPs. So it’s less about exactly what you send and more about the thought that goes into it. Make sure you’re sending high-quality liquor gifts at key times (such as their birthday and New Year), and they’re sure to be appreciative. Go the extra mile and check in on how they liked it, and you may find out what you need to send an even better gift next time!
You’ve Mastered The Differences Between Scotch vs Whiskey vs Whisky: Now What?
- Surprise your VIPs with a corporate alcohol gift.
- Learn more about whiskey in Whiskey 101.
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A foodie, nerd, book lover, and eager taste tester. I’m a night owl with a need to expand my knowledge of other cultures and places to give myself a better perspective.