Scotch vs. Bourbon Whiskey: The Differences

The differences between scotch and bourbon whiskey lie in the grains which create them. Although they are both members of the whiskey family, the taste for each is noticeably different.

The Grains

Many claim loyalty to one or the other: scotch or bourbon. When tasting both side-by-side, you’ll understand why. They are quite different even though both are whiskeys. This has to do with the way they are made.


Bourbon may use a few grains, but to have the name bourbon bestowed upon a bottle, it must be at least 51% corn and aged at least two years in white oak barrels. The charring of the inside of the barrels along with grain selection and percentages is what gives each bourbon its unique flavor.

Made in the USA, you may find bourbons in other areas of the country, but true aficionados feel if it isn’t made in Kentucky, it isn’t bourbon.


Scotch comes to us from Scotland, and it must, in order to be called scotch.

It gets its smokey flavor from the burning of dried mosses, referred to as “peat.” Length of exposure time to the peat and strength of the smoke determines the different flavor in each scotch whiskey.

Along with the peat process, scotch is blended using malted barley, yeast, and other grains, then put into a mash tun where starches are converted to sugar. To be considered a scotch, it must be aged at least three years in oak barrels.

The Notes

Notes are the flavors and aromas that awaken the senses. The differences between scotch and bourbon whiskey lie greatly in the notes.


Common findings in bourbon are notes of caramel and vanilla. Some are sweeter with hints of pear, apple, or dates, while other bourbons are almost spicy with tastes such as cinnamon and black pepper, or even tobacco.

Bourbon has many layers, and notes are not only tasted and smelled but felt. Watch the faces and listen to reactions at a tasting, and you’ll hear words like smooth, burning, or velvet.

Lovers of bourbon consider it an experience—not just a drink.


Many describe the common note in scotch as smokey.

Unlike campfire smoke, the smoke flavor from the peat creates a mossy connotation rather than a charred taste. As such, scotch is a bit earthy tasting.

Its other notes may be malty, vanilla, chocolate, and even butter. Some will even sense an odor akin to iodine. That may sound unusual, and indeed it is, but that is the beauty of scotch—it is a rare liquor and full of surprises.

Just like bourbon, scotch has layers; each one just as smooth as the one before it. During a tasting, the nose will be the first to catch aromas, then the tongue and mouth, and lastly the throat. For those whose senses were made for it, scotch is considered nothing less than luxurious.

VS Liquor is here to supply all your scotch and bourbon needs for an evening of tasting and discovery.