Scotch vs Bourbon

Photograph: Serghei Platonov by

It’s quite simple, really. Scotch and bourbon are whiskeys (spelled whisky in Scotland) and are distilled from malted grains, usually barley and/or rye. They are both aged to mellow and to create flavor. That is where the similarity ends. Bourbon, an American whiskey, tends sweet, with caramel and vanilla notes, and is a good introductory “brown spirit” for the American palate. Scotch is made in Scotland, and its nuanced flavors range from elegant to earthy. Peated Scotch is an acquired and beguiling flavor. Sales of these spirits have exploded in the U.S. recently, making them elusive. “As collectible, super-rare Scotch and bourbon became nearly impossible to find—or being resold at ten times their original price—it started to trickle down to where everyday stuff is hard to find,” says Andrew Estey, manager of Fairway Wines and Spirits in Stamford. Case in point: A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 23 Year, goes for $3,000. But you can find a good bottle of bourbon in the $35 range. Below, see what Estey and Mark Abramson, owner of Mo’s Wine & Spirits in Fairfield, suggest you sip.


  • Made in Scotland
  • Made of 100 percent malted barley
  • There is no requirement for type of cask.
  • The most popular are aged in bourbon, sherry and port casks, which impart a range of flavors.


  • Made in the U.S.A. (more than 91 percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky)
  • Made of 51 percent corn. Rye and barley are also used.
  • Aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years—Jim Beam is aged for four years—and up to thirty.
  • No additives (such as caramel), except water to dilute the alcohol proof.

When grains are sprouted, then dried

Single Malt
A single distillery (rather than a blend)

Single Cask
Approximately 225 bottles from a single cask will have a one-time-only flavor

Mossy decayed organic matter of coastal regions of Scotland used to fire the kiln to germinate and dry the malt. It imparts smoky, earthy and iodine flavors.

Scotch Picks

Bowmore Islay Single Malt Whisky, 12 Year Asylum Fifth State Corn Aged Whiskey
Mark Abramson

Highland Park Whisky, The Balvenie DoubleWood Whisky, Springbank Scotch Whisky, Glenmorangie Scotch Whisky
Andrew Estey

Bourbon Picks

Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Basil Hayden
Mark Abramson

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon E. H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bourbon
Andrew Estey 

Elizabeth Keyser has written about beer, wine and spirits for newspapers, magazines and blogs. She has sat on the Yankee Brew News tasting panel and judged craft and European brew contests.



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