It’s upsetting to learn that scotch, bourbon, and rye are all types of whiskeys when you’ve gone your whole life believing that whiskey is whiskey. But what whiskey is, is a distilled alcoholic drink derived from a malted grain. Under the power of law, a whiskey can’t legally claim a title without meeting precise specifications. This can include the country it’s made in, the ABV content, and even the type of barrel it’s aged in. So waste not another drink in ignorance and read on to see the difference between Scotch, bourbon, and rye whiskey.
Scotland’s pride is made from mashing barley, hot water, and yeast together, then fermenting it in old oak casks for up to fifteen years. If it’s labeled a single malt, it means the mash only utilized one type of malted barley. The blended malts mix two single malts together for distilling. Single malts steal the show, but several blends come utterly revered for their standard of excellence like the Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Scotland is protective of their pride, and as such, each batch of Scotch must meet certain ramifications for the distilleries to legally label them as a Scotch whiskey. For one, they must come from Scotland, otherwise, they’re only to be referred to as “single malt whiskey” or “malt whiskey” for blends. Three years or more is required for aging, and the ABV(alcohol by volume) can’t exceed 94.7%. Prices loom high since real Scotch’s are imports, but finer quality does exist at lower prices. Just check the Glengoyne 17 Year Old Single Malt Scotch, a delicate fruity palate for $50.
Just as Scotland struck a monopoly on the Scotch name, the U.S. has done the same with bourbon. While bourbon can be made within any of the fifty states, Kentucky remains the proudest and largest distributor of bourbon. The bluegrass state’s signature cocktail, the mint julep, is half composed of bourbon and wildly popular during the Kentucky Derby.
The mashing process for bourbon subs in at least 51% of the malted barley or wheat for corn. By law, they must be distilled in newly charred oak barrels and entered in at no more than 125 proof. They also must be removed before exceeding 160 proof, whereas 190 proof is the limit for most other whiskies like Scotch. Then for bottling, they can’t exceed 80 proof. The process became strict due to incessant tampering with the formula in the late 1800’s which produced several poor quality brands of bourbon. You can’t go wrong though with the two-time gold-medalist in San Francisco’s World Spirit’s competition; Four Roses Small Batch at $30.
While bourbon sales flourished in the American South, the northeastern states held fast to its rival drink of choice, rye. Whereas bourbon requires 51% corn, rye needs 51% rye to legally hold the name. It was a hit during colonial times where it was sought after for its spicy dry burn, toting just enough sweetness to mellow the intensity.
After his presidency, George Washington ventured into the whiskey-making business. His first year in business during 1797 brought forth a cozy profit at 600 gallons of rye whiskey. Seeing potential for more, he constructed a larger distillery equip with a boiler and 5 copper pot stills. Washington passed away in 1799, but his business sold 11,000 barrels nonetheless, making it America’s largest distillery at the time. A new distillery has since been erected in its place on Mount Vernon and makes George Washington Rye Whiskey. It’s sold at $98 and said to replicate the original formula’s flavor.