I have been asked this same question a million times in my life, “What is the difference between Scotch and Whiskey?” The answer is often over analyzed and made extremely complicated for no apparent reason. Here is the simple run down on an age-old question.
Whiskey, also spelled Whisky, is a broad category that houses such spirits as Scotch, bourbon, Irish Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye, etc. Scotch is simply a type of Whisky as is bourbon, Irish Whiskey, Jack Daniels and on and on we can go. Therefore, all Scotch is Whisky but not all Whisky is Scotch.
For a Whisky to be considered Scotch it must possess certain characteristics and distilling requirements. First, it must be distilled in a Scottish distillery – obvious right? Second, it must be made from water and malted barley. This is the most apparent characteristic in its taste profile. Most other Whiskeys are made from distilled corn or Rye, but Scotch uses barley. Scotch must also be matured in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years and one day. Why the extra day? – Because they are Scottish and have to be difficult. And, the fourth requirement for a Whisky to be considered Scotch is rather technical. It must be distilled at less than 94.8% alcohol by volume and be bottled at more than 40% alcohol by volume.
The best analogy that I like to use to simplify the matter is to think of Whiskey as a big tree. Scotch is one of the major branches extending from the trunk of the Whiskey tree. It would be f’n awesome if there was such a tree. Anyway, from that “Scotch” branch extends smaller branches like single malts and blended Scotch as two distinct types of Scotch. Other major branches on this proverbial Whiskey tree would be bourbon, Tennessee, Rye, Irish, Canadian, etc.
All Whiskey, whether Scotch or not, are grain based and come out of the distillery as a clear liquid. It is not until their maturation in wooden barrels that the liquid turns to the brown color that we equate with Whiskey.
The next time you try a dram of Whiskey or Whisky as the Scotts and Canadian’s spell it, try adding a drop or two of water to open up the flavor profile and bring out nuances of the subtle flavors otherwise ignored. Don’t worry, a couple of drops of water won’t dilute it but a couple cubes of ice is another story. I never drink any Whiskey with ice.
Bonus: Our Friends over at Famous Smoke Shop have created a Cigar & Spirit Pairing Guide check it out!