Whether you are a casual drinker or fancy yourself a bit of an École du Bar de Montréal cocktail connoisseur you have likely heard the terms “bourbon,” “whisky,” “scotch,” and “rye” before. In short, you may have fancied them the same thing. Well, in essence, that is only partly true.
Whisky (also Whiskey) is a type of spirit categorized as the distillation of alcohol from fermented grain mash. This mash is then typically aged in a wooden cask, a process which gives the otherwise clear liquid (as is the case with all alcohols) its characteristic brown color and its earthy taste. The various names given to whiskey are based, mostly, on where the grain mash is fermented and bottled.
What is BOURBON?
While all “whiskeys” are categorized as such because they are distilled from fermented mash grains, it can only be considered a “bourbon” if the final product has been distilled from at least 51 percent of corn and done so in the American South (typically). In addition to this, though, whiskey can only be called bourbon if it is also aged in some kind of charred oak container (often a barrel) and, by law, cannot contain any other additives.
You may be familiar with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey. This is actually bourbon.
What is SCOTCH?
Following this logic, then, “scotch” is a whisky (no “e” this time) distilled and aged in Scotland. Generally speaking, though, Scotch is different from Bourbon in that it is mostly made from fermented malted barley. However, there is “highland” and “lowland” scotch which further distinguish the spirit’s trademark “bite” and its relative smokiness (which can be quite intense, particularly for the scotch newcomer).
What is RYE?
While the previous two can be somewhat complicated, rye is simple: this is an alcohol distilled from at least 51 percent rye grain. Rye is a type of grass, in the same family as wheat; a close relative of barley. Compared to the others though, rye has a sharper, spicier, grainier bite than its younger brother bourbon, which—made from corn—is easily much sweeter and easier on the palate.