There’s no denying that bourbon has become the brown spirit most American drinkers prefer over any other, but what these drinkers may not realize is that this American whiskey has a lot in common with its Scottish cousin, especially in the ways in which it is made. And that means if you’re fond of bourbon, it’s high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try.
Scottish single malt and bourbon are created in very similar ways. While they may not use the same base-grain ingredients — single-malt Scotch calls for 100 percent roasted barley while bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn — once distilled, these whiskeys both are placed in oak to be aged. They even often wind up in the same barrel! That’s because while bourbon requires that all white whiskey be placed in new charred American oak barrels in order to age and take on its brown color, Scotch does not. So while a bourbon producer can only use each barrel once, Scotch producers can use the barrels as many times as they want. So what do bourbon producers do? They sell their used barrels to Scotch distilleries. Meaning most of the single malts available on the market were actually aged in American bourbon barrels.
And the similarities don’t stop there. If you’re a drinker of bourbon, unless you’re consuming a single barrel variety, such as Blanton’s, your bourbon was made by blending many different barrels together in order to achieve the exact flavor the blenders were looking for, and that’s exactly the same for Scotch. While many might assume a single malt comes from a single barrel of whisky, that is in fact not the case. Single malts simply come from a single distillery, but are made by blending many different barrels at that distillery. In both cases, the final liquid in the bottle is meant to be an expression of the distillery and its blenders, not an expression of what happened inside one single barrel of whiskey.
But what if the reason you avoid single-malt Scotch is because you don’t enjoy smoke, preferring the sweeter style of bourbon? Here, too, you’re in luck, because not all Scotch is smokey. In fact, some distilleries don’t use smoked peat at all in order to dry and toast their barley, and that means the whisky is lighter and a bit sweeter, much like a bourbon. If this is the flavor profile you prefer, look for Scotches that come from the Lowlands. These tend to be on the lighter and sweeter side. Our favorites are Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan.
So if you love bourbon, its high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try. The similarities are much more common than you’d think.