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Scotch Whisky vs. Irish Whiskey: What's the Difference

Scotland and Ireland are two of the most well known Whisky/Whiskey producers in the world. And despite the fact that they’re neighbours, there are some pretty fundamental differences to how they do things.

Read on to learn the differences in spelling, production, distillation and malting, and see what they have in common - apart from being f*****g awesome.
 

What is the difference between Whisky and Whiskey?

The first obvious difference between the two is the spelling of Whisky. Scotch Whisky is always spelt without the E, whereas Irish Whiskey is always spelt with an E.
 
Whisky is the anglicised form of the Gaelic word uisge beatha (pronounced “oosh-kie bah”). Gaelic is native to both Ireland and Scotland, so it's hard to say where the E came from, but clearly it meant more to the Irish than the Scottish.
 

How are Whisky and Whiskey produced?

As well as spelling, there are some big differences in how Whisky/Whiskey is produced in Scotland and Ireland.


How is Scotch Whisky Produced?

Scotch is typically made from malted barley, and other grains, in a copper pot still and matured for a minimum of three years.  
Irish Whiskey is typically made from unmalted barley, and other grains, in a copper pot still and matured for a minimum of three years.
 
So far, so good. They are fairly similar at a basic level, but once you get into it, they change quite a bit.

Scotch Whisky


Distillation and Malting of Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey

Scotch is usually distilled twice and made completely from malted barley. Single malt dominates the market but blends are also popular and made from a mixture of malted grains, always with some percentage of barley.
 

How is Irish Whiskey Produced? 

Irish on the other hand, is mostly triple distilled, which makes it renowned for its smoothness. It is also more likely to be made up of a combination of grains, not just barley.
 
 

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The extra distillation probably has the biggest effect on the difference between the flavors of Scotch and Irish Whiskey. It gives Irish Whiskey a lighter flavor, and as mentioned before, makes the mouth feel smoother.
 
Of course there are exceptions to these rules, with distilleries such as Auchentoshan in Scotland using triple distillation and Kilbeggan in Ireland using double distillation.
 


What do Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey have in common?

Despite the differences in methods there will always be some similarities between Irish Whiskey and Scotch.
 
Scotland has over a hundred distilleries so it shouldn’t be that surprising that some of them have similar flavor profiles to distilleries in Ireland.
 
 

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The use of oak wood is always going to have a big effect on the flavor of the liquid, roughly 70% of the end flavor in fact, and both Ireland and Scotland must use oak casks.
 
Further to this, they are also both very likely to use ex-Bourbon or Sherry casks.
 
This will of course give the two malts similar flavors, with Bourbon casks imparting a sweeter flavor and Sherry casks encouraging fruity and spicy notes.
 
If you’re looking to try Whiskies that might have you questioning if they are Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey, then you should try Auchentoshan Scotch which is similar to the Irish Whiskey character as it is triple distilled and often very soft and smooth with a vanilla character too.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Some of the Teeling single casks are similar to Scotch due to their depth of flavor, their experimental maturation and finishing processes. They often have a less-smooth flavor profile than you’d expect from Irish Whiskey. Dingle Irish Whiskey is proving to be quite a great Whiskey as it has lots of character, not unlike some of the fruitier Scotches.


 

By Greg

Greg

Greg is a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. His mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about Whisky, Whiskey, Gin, Beer and fine dining through his website, GreatDrams.com, writing, brand building and whisky tastings.

 

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