Whiskey vs Scotch: What’s the Difference?

Whiskey vs Scotch

Are you a cocktail lover? If you’re like 55% of Americans, then you’ve had a drink sometime in the past month. Yet for many people, drinking alcohol is a hobby that they don’t understand much about.

If you enjoy drinking classy and sophisticated drinks, you might like drinking whiskey or scotch. But do you know how people make them? How about the differences between scotch vs whiskey?

Keep reading to learn all about the differences between whiskey vs scotch.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the location where someone makes alcohol has a huge impact on its final form. Although people in different countries and regions can produce cheaper forms of alcohol without a problem, only select distilleries can produce the most expensive varieties.  

The first major difference between whiskey and scotch has to do with location. Countries around the world such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, and India can also produce their own versions of whiskey. Click here to learn about an American whiskey.

On the other hand, only manufacturers in select regions of Scotland are able to make scotch. These regions include Speyside, the Lowlands, and the Highlands. Speyside has the highest number of distilleries, although the other regions have several different production facilities as well.

Today, countries across the world produce single malts. However, it’s illegal for a company to call a whiskey a scotch if they made it outside of Scotland. The Scots are proud of their drinking heritage!

Production Methods

Both scotch and whiskey have similar production methods. Both involve fermenting the grains used in the alcohol, distillation, and a period of time where manufacturers age the alcohol in barrels. 

Depending on the variety of whiskey, manufacturers use different grains in the production process. These can include barley, rye, wheat, malted barley or rye, and corn. After fermentation and distillation, manufacturers use oak barrels to age the alcohol.

On the other hand, manufacturers only use malted barley to make whiskey. They first dry it over fires that have dried peat mixed in, or a form of compost. This gives the identifiable smoky taste that most malt whiskeys have. 

Different Types

If you don’t know much about whiskey or scotch, the different terms and variations might overwhelm you. Here’s a breakdown of some of the different types of each.

There are two types of whiskeys: malt and grain whiskey. Malting involves spreading wet grain in a room, then pulverizing it with hot water when it starts to sprout. Manufacturers use malted barley to make malt whiskey, while they use different grains to make grain whiskey. 

There are also two general types of scotch whiskeys: single scotch malt and single grain scotch whiskey. Manufacturers produce single scotch malt whiskey from water and malted barley, while they use water, malted barley, and grains to produce the latter. 

Aside from the basic types, there are also different blends of whiskey and scotch that you can enjoy. A blended malt refers to a whiskey or scotch that mixes alcohol from different distilleries. Likewise, blended whiskeys involve mixing malt and grain with additional flavors.


For many people, the production methods aren’t important, but the price is. So which is more expensive, whiskey or scotch? Although there are expensive versions of both, scotch is the pricier option in general.

The longer alcohol is aged in a barrel, the more expensive it is. It becomes smoother with age, giving it a more pleasant taste, as well as a higher price tag. 

However, smoothness isn’t the only reason why scotch is more expensive. If you buy a 25-year old bottle of scotch, around 40% of the scotch has disappeared during the production process. This is due to natural evaporation, or as people who work at distilleries call it, “the angel’s share”.

Scotch is so expensive because it’s old, and because a substantial amount of the alcohol has evaporated. Blame the angels the next time you pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of scotch. 

A Drinking Guide

If you’ve ever been on a wine tasting tour, then you know that smelling the wine before drinking it is important. It lets you appreciate the subtle flavors and aromas (and also makes you look classy!). You should always do the same when drinking whiskey or scotch.

Depending on where you order your drink, you can expect the flavor to vary greatly. Most American distilleries age their whiskey in new oak barrels, as opposed to older barrels with more mature wood. This means that many American whiskeys are dark and heavy with vanilla.

On the other hand, other countries such as Ireland, Scotland, and Japan use the same barrel to help their whiskeys age. In general, this gives them a smoother and softer flavor. 

The flavors of American whiskey go great with typical American foods, such as a plate of ribs or a dish that has bacon. Whiskey from other countries pairs well with fried chicken if it’s a blend, and a charred steak if it’s a single malt. 

Whiskey vs Scotch: Understand the Differences

If you enjoy a good cocktail, you should understand the process that goes into making the drink. As this whiskey vs scotch guide explains, the two are similar but different. Remember that all scotch is a form of whiskey, but all whiskey isn’t a form of scotch.

Do you now have a better understanding of the difference between whiskey and scotch? Before you go and craft your next cocktail, make sure to take a look at some of our other blog posts for more guides and tips. 

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About the Author: Wayne Probert

Wayne Probert is a senior reporter at Zobuz, covering state and national politics, and he is a grantee with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Before joining Zobuz, he worked as a freelance journalist in Kentucky, having been published by dozens of outlets including NPR, the Center for Media.