Whiskey or Whisky?

While bourbon and scotch are both considered “whiskey”, the spirits are quite different in mash bill, cask requirements, aging, environment, and even in the way each spell the word “whiskey.” The general rule of thumb is, if a country has an “e” in its name, such as in America or Ireland, then it’s spelled whiskey. But if it doesn’t have an “e,” as in Scotland and Japan, it’s spelled whisky.

The Ingredients

While a bourbon mash bill predominantly contains corn, a scotch mash bill is often 100% malted barley. Another major contributor to the difference in taste is the use of peat as a heat source to dry the barley. Peat, which is partially decayed vegetation and organic matter found in Europe, instills the smoky flavors that are a signature characteristic of many of the most popular scotch brands.

The Aging Process

Bourbon distillate must be put into a new, charred oak barrels to age, while scotch is put into used barrels, thus toning down the intense flavors imparted by the barrel onto the spirit. Due to this, one of the biggest differences between the scotch and bourbon is age.

There is no law stating how long bourbon must age in a barrel, but to call it “straight bourbon,” it must rest at least two years. Most distilleries age their bourbon at least four years, and many believe bourbon’s sweet spot lies between six and 12 years. Of course there are older bourbons — like the highly coveted Pappy 23-Year — but these are quite rare in the bourbon world, as the longer the bourbon stays in the barrel, the more oak notes it picks up to the point that the flavor is no longer preferable.

Scotch, on the other hand, must be aged at least three years in used casks, but a majority of it ages for much, much longer — anywhere between 15 and 50 years. The two main reasons for this are the colder climate of Scotland creating less evaporation and the fact that the spirit is aging in used barrels.

Choosing An Investment

From an investment perspective, the difference in time required to mature the two types of spirit are a major factor in determining which opportunity is best suited to an investors portfolio. Bourbon offers the ability to monetize an investment in less time, whereas scotch offers the opportunity to hold for the long term.

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