FANFOOD RULES: #8 Know the Difference Between BOURBON, SCOTCH, WHISKEY & RYE



No self respecting man (or woman) should NOT know the difference between Scotch and Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye. It’s FANFOOD RULES No. 8.

Here is everything you need to know followed by recipes for cooking with them.



The bottom line is this:


All Bourbon is Whiskey, not all Whiskey is Bourbon.


This seems like an over simplification, and it is. But it is a good place to start. If you are looking to impress with your knowledge of all things Whiskey, keep reading.


The main difference between scotch and whiskey, bourbon and rye is geographic, but also ingredients and spellings. Scotch is whisky made in Scotland, while bourbon is whiskey made in the U.S.A, generally Kentucky. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish whiskey. Notice that they spell it differently too. (more on the spelling later)

The difference between Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniel’s, for example, and Bourbon is that after the spirit is distilled, Tennessee Whiskey is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal. This filtering, known as the Lincoln County Process, is what distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from your average Bourbon, like Jim Beam. The name, Bourbon, comes from an area known as Old Bourbon, around what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky.

On top of these types of whiskey, we also have Rye, which can refer either to American rye whiskey, which must be distilled from at least 51 percent rye or Canadian whisky, which may or may not actually include any rye in its production process.

Let’s try to clear all the spirit confusion by breaking down each.



To keep it simple, whiskey is any booze distilled from fermented grain mash. The only exception to this being some whiskey made from corn, which doesn’t always have to be aged. All whiskey must be distilled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). The difference between the various whiskeys relies mostly on the type of grain used for the mash.



Since all whiskey is made from fermented grain mash, Scotch will obviously be no exception. To qualify as a scotch the spirit must be made from malted Barley, with many scotches using nothing more than barley, water and yeast, roasted over peat driven stoves and aged for a minimum of 3 years. Different areas of Scotland (lowland, islay, highland, etc.) have different types of peat, each with their own characteristics. The spirit must also be aged in oak casks for no less than three years, and must have an ABV at less than 94.8%. Finally, you cannot call your drink Scotch unless it was made 100% in Scotland, from Scotland.



Bourbon whiskey must be made from a grain mixture which is at least 51% corn. The fermentation process for this mixture is often started by mixing in some mash from an older already fermenting batch, a process known as sour mash. Much like how Scotch must be made in Scotland, Bourbon can only be labeled as Bourbon if it was made in the United States. While the rules are slightly more loose with Bourbon than with Scotch it still has to form to a few requirements.

For a whiskey to call itself bourbon, its mash, the mixture of grains from which the product is distilled, must contain at least 51% corn. (The rest of the mash is usually filled out with malted barley and either rye or wheat.) The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, put into the barrel at 125 proof or less, and it must not contain any additives. The distillate must be aged in a new charred oak barrel. (Most often these barrels are white oak, but they can be any variety of oak.)

The spirit must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol (160 proof), aged in new charred oak barrels. Finally Bourbon has no minimum aging period, but to call your product Straight Bourbon it must be aged for no less than two years (and can have no added coloring, flavor or other spirits added). Straight Bourbon, the mash bill (grains used for the raw spirit) must contain at least 51% corn — the remainder is usually rye or wheat and a small amount of malted barley. It must be aged in new, charred white oak barrels. It must enter the barrel at a minimum of 110 proof. As stated previously, It must be aged for a minimum of 2-years, and, if aged for less than 4-years, it must be labeled with the precise age.


Tennessee Whiskey

Basically, Tennessee Whiskey is straight bourbon made in the state of Tennessee. The people who produce this spirit, such as Jack Daniels, don’t want their whiskey labeled as Bourbon, claiming that they are the only type of whiskey which puts the spirit through a charcoal filtering process. As a result they believe their drink deserves to be distinguished with a separate name. Other than that all Bourbon rules apply. A whiskey can only be labeled as Tennessee whiskey if it is a straight Bourbon whiskey produced within the borders of that state. As a result, there are only four brands of Tennessee whiskey currently on the market, Jack Daniel’s being one of them. Side note: after the aging process Jack Daniels’ oak barrels are then used by Tabasco to age its hot sauce.



Rye is the trickiest of all whiskey’s to define. The reason for this comes from a historical naming convention for Rye produced in Canada. While you would assume Rye whiskey must be made predominantly from Rye mash, this is not always the case.

Canada has distilled Rye for almost as long as the country has existed, and historically the majority of the mash was comprised of Rye mash. But with no actual rules in place the spirit is now produced with a mash sporting a corn to rye ration as high as 9:1.

The only rule to label your whisky as Rye in Canada is for it to have some rye in it, and to possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whiskey… whatever that is. Canadian whisky is mostly corn plus some other grains grown on the prairies. The term “Rye” in Canada is mostly colloquial. These days, most Canadian whiskies are blended whiskies — a certain amount of whisky mixed with neutral grain spirits.

In America, Rye whiskey must be made from a mash made from no less than 51% rye. The other ingredients commonly used include corn and barley. Same as Bourbon it must be aged in charred new oak barrels distilled to an ABV less than 80%. Just like Bourbon, only Rye which has been aged more than two years may be referred to as Straight, and Straight Rye is made with at least 51% rye, rather than corn. There is only one “True” Rye producer in the world (Alberta Premium, from Canada) which is made from 100% rye mash. Nearly all of the true Ryes are made by Alberta Premium (or Alberta Springs, which is the same place) and simply bottled and re-branded.


Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is pretty much any whiskey aged in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland. Like Scotch it must be distilled to an ABV of less than 94.8. The whiskey must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. Irish whiskey has some of the most relaxed rules, which create a larger diversity in the whiskeys produced.


To “E” or not to “E”

American and Irish liquor producers tend to favor the spelling WHISKEY, while Canadian, Scottish, and Japanese producers tend to favor WHISKY.


Here’s a quick way to remember how some of the world’s biggest producers spell their products:

  • Countries that have E’s in their names (UnitEd StatEs and IrEland) tend to spell it whiskEy (plural whiskeys)
  • Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky (plural whiskies)


The Aging Process

Aging varies between types of whiskey. Bourbon, due great temperature change through out the year in Kentucky, will age much quicker than Scotch. Scotland’s temperature fluctuates far less.

The barrel used to age bourbon can only be used once. Wild Turkey sells their barrels to Jameson.

Tennessee whiskey is aged in new charred white oak barrels, giving it a characteristic sweet vanilla flavor, while scotch whisky makers use older barrels for a milder flavor.

Irish, Scotch and Canadian whiskies are often aged in used Bourbon Barrels.




  • All Bourbon is Whiskey, not all Whiskey is Bourbon.

  • Whiskey is distilled from fermented grain mash, with the difference between the various whiskeys relying mostly on the type of grain used. It’s usually barley, corn, rye or wheat.
  • Bourbon is Whiskey made in the U.S.A, generally Kentucky, and distilled from a blend of grains which must contain a minimum of 51% corn.
  • Scotch is Whisky made in Scotland and is made mostly from malted barley roasted over peat driven stoves and aged for a minimum of 3 years.
  • Tennessee Whiskey is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal before it ages.
  • Canadian Whisky is a blend of grains sometimes called Rye, but may not have any rye in it at all.
  • American Rye Whiskey must be distilled from at least 51 percent rye, and can be called Straight Rye.
  • Irish Whisky is comes from 100% malted barley, aged for a minimum of three years in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland.


That’s it. Now you know the difference, it’s time to start drinking and cooking with them.





Whiskey Recipes


Whiskey-Ginger Marinade


1/3 cup bourbon
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced



Combine, and use as a marinade.


Put in a sauce pan, heat to a slow boil and add 1 tablespoon water & 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch to thicken for a grilling sauce.


Sweet Bourbon-Coffee Sauce


1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon beef-flavored bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt



Combine, and use as a marinade.


Put in a sauce pan, heat to a slow boil and add water & cornstarch to thicken for a grilling sauce.



Bourbon Pecan Sauce

This rich-tasting sauce has grown-up appeal, thanks to the bourbon, and makes a delicious accompaniment for Buttermilk Pancakes.



1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract



Combine sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

Cook 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Stir in pecans, milk, butter, bourbon, and vanilla extract.
Reduce heat, and cook 3 minutes or until mixture is thick and bubbly.



Marmalade Sours

This take on a classic whiskey sour uses marmalade in lieu of simple syrup to sweeten the mix. The extra citrus flavor and chewy bits of orange peel will convert any neophyte to the magic of this versatile drink.



6 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. your favorite Whiskey, Bourbon or Rye
3 tablespoons lemon juice



In a pitcher or 2-pint measuring cup, dissolve orange marmalade in 3/4 cup hot water.

Stir in bourbon and lemon juice.

Fill six 8- to 12-oz. glasses with ice and pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup cocktail mixture into each glass, making sure each serving gets some of the orange peel that settles at the bottom of the mixture.

Serve marmalade sours immediately.


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