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

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 neighbors, 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 spelled without the E, whereas Irish whiskey is spelled with an E.

Speyburn Scotch

Whisky is the anglicized form of the Gaelic word uisge beatha (pronounced “oosh-kie bah”), which means water of life. 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.

Although the price varies greatly by brand, age, and type, Scotch historically has been more expensive than Irish whiskey.
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How did two countries so close to one another come to have such different types of whisky in the first place? Here are crash courses on the history of both spirits.

How Are Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey Produced?

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

Single Malt Scotch has to be made from malted barley. The spirit is distilled in a copper pot still and has to be aged for a minimum of three years in an oak cask.

On the other hand, blended Scotch is made from a mix of single malts and so-called grain whisky, which is made from grain and is produced in a column still. It also has to be aged in an oak cask.

Irishman Whiskey

The oldest type of Irish whiskey is Single malt, which is made from malted barley in a copper pot still. But there are also a number of other different styles, including single pot still, which is made from both malted and unmalted barley.

This was done because traditionally distillers were taxed on how much-malted barley they used. There are many legendary brands in this category, including Method & Madness, Green Spot, and Redbreast.

Many of the largest Irish whiskey brands are blends, like Jameson and Bushmills White Label, which are made from a mix of grain whiskey and pot still or malt whiskey.

Distillation and Malting of Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey

Single malt Scotch is usually distilled twice and made completely from malted barley. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is often distilled three times, which makes it incredibly smooth.
Copper Stills
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.
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.


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 more than 130 distilleries so it shouldn’t be that surprising that some of them have similar flavor profiles to distilleries in Ireland. (And that’s not to mention that Ireland produced single malt first!)
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Scotch whisky runs the gamut from smokey and peaty to smooth and fruity.
Irish whiskey, however, is generally not smoky and peaty. Traditionally the Whiskey was described as smooth and honeyed. While that was certainly true for some whiskies produced on the Emerald Isle, not every spirit fit that stereotype.
Thanks to the recent distilling boom, Ireland now makes a huge variety of whiskies that also run the full flavor gamut.

Scotch Whisky

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 Irish whiskey, since it is triple distilled.

Some of the Teeling single casks are similar to Scotch due to their depth of flavor, their experimental maturation, and finishing processes. And Dingle Irish Whiskey is proving to be quite a great whiskey as it has lots of character, not unlike some of the fruitier Scotches.

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