Irish Whiskey Vs Scotch: What’s The Difference?

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Have you ever got confused over a bar menu, trying to figure out the difference between an Irish Whiskey and a Scotch Whisky? Or have you questioned yourself why some spirits are called “whiskey” while others are called “whisky”? If so, this article is the perfect help for you. Let’s see what the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scotch is.

The Irish Whiskey is produced in Ireland and is made from a yeast-fermented mash of malted cereals, being distilled thrice. Whereas Scotch Whisky is produced in Scotland, specifically in Islay, Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Speyside, and Islands, and it is made from malted barley or grain. It is distilled twice, so it is a bit stronger.

Now, these spirits seem easier to understand. Yet, many things help you to objectively see the difference between them, such as their taste, appearance, texture, production methods, etc. Keep reading further to understand the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky.

The Real Difference Between Irish Whiskey And Scotch

Irish Whiskey is a type produced in Ireland often associated with the country’s history, craftsmanship, and tradition, an integral part of Irish culture.

The word “whiskey” comes from the Irish uisce beatha, meaning “water of life”. This beverage has been a big hit since its creation, and each year more people start to drink the Irish Whiskey. 

With exports growing by over 15% per year, existing distilleries have been expanded and several new distilleries constructed. As of December 2019, Ireland has 32 distilleries in operation, with more either planned or under development. That’s a lot, especially in a small country (in terms of territory) such as Ireland.

Its story is very similar to the story of most beverages. Irish Whiskey has been produced on the island since at least the early 17th century, with records showing that such spirits were held in high regard by the laird Hugh Roe O’Donnell.


The beverage became particularly popular during the 18th century, when demand for Irish Whiskey spread throughout Europe and beyond. In an era known as “The Golden Age of Irish Whiskey”, Whiskey was made near every town in Ireland and exported as far afield as America, South Africa, and Australia.

If you love a softer drink, Irish Whiskey is the way to go since it is one of the most approachable types of Whiskey, having a light flavor that’s mellow and with a hint of vanilla, being quite easy to drink. It is even slightly fruity and has a floral scent. Therefore, it’s a perfect first whiskey for new whiskey drinkers. 

Also Check: Brandy Vs Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

Aging it makes a more sophisticated flavor profile, with signature oak and caramel flavors. The easiest way to put it in your cocktails is by combining it with coffee or citrus, perfect combinations for this spirit. For example, in the Irish Sour drink, you can taste the Irish Whiskey’s sweetness, almost like fruit punch. 

Most Irish Whiskey is 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). Yet, you can find some bottled up to 60% ABV. If you are going to drink it on the rocks, the trick is always to use freshly shaken ice and water that has not been chilled – as cold water will dilute your drink.  

Jameson Whiskey is the most popular Irish Whiskey brand globally, with around 31 million bottles sold annually. As its name shows, the creator of this blended Whiskey is John Jameson, who started selling it in Dublin on the year of 1780. It’s made from a blend of single grain and single pot still Whiskey. Therefore, it is necessary to notice that this beverage has no peaty notes like Scotch whisky.

Talking about it, Scotch Whisky, usually known simply as Scotch, is a malt or grain whisky (corn, wheat, and rye) made in Scotland that must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. It is produced at multiple distilleries that include some of the most renowned in the world. Nowadays, at least 134 distilleries are producing this beverage.

Scotch is one of the world’s most popular types of Whiskey, accounting for approximately 90% of the Whiskey sold in the United States and 40% of global sales. It must contain at least 40% ABV to be truly considered a Scotch Whisky.

This spirit is certainly one of the world’s most complex and diverse whiskeys. It has a malty taste, apparently due to the malted barley used as the main ingredient.

The single taste of Scotch is determined by various factors: the kind of malt used, the amount of time it has been aged, its production region, the procedure, and other ingredients. Aged Scotch may have fruity tastes such as cherry and berries and a smoky flavor when produced over peat fires.

Although it is uncertain when whisky was introduced to Scotland, the earliest known reference to a still for making “water of life” in Scotland appears in the Aberdeen council registers in a case heard in 1505 by the town’s bailies concerning the inheritance of goods belonging to a chaplain called Sir Andrew Gray, who died in 1504.

Somehow, a fifth-century Irish monk named Patrick took an interest in distilling whisky in Ireland. If early records are correct, he imported the art to Scotland during the late 15th century while traveling across Scandinavia and then on to France. When he returned to Ireland sometime in the early 16th century, he brought back a recipe for this new creation.

  • It is produced in Ireland;
  • It has a lighter and sweeter taste;
  • It is distilled thrice;
  • It is one of the best Whiskey to introduce to someone who’s not used to drinking it;
  • It is produced in Scotland;
  • It is a bit stronger and commonly has a smokey taste;
  • It is distilled twice;
  • It is a very complex beverage that many experts love;

What Are The Types Of Irish Whiskey?

Irish Whiskey is one of the most diverse types of Whiskey around the world, having many styles. The name of the variations depends on the distillation process and the used grain’s name. Since Irish Whiskeys are traditionally made in a pot still, the traditional styles can be divided into two categories, which are:


Single malt Irish Whiskey

The single malt Irish Whiskey is composed of malted barley distilled in a pot still within a single distillery. That doesn’t mean it is made of a single grain, but that it is made in the same distillery. Therefore, only one distillery can be used. This definition is the rule for most “single types” whiskeys.

Single pot still Whiskey

The single pot still Whiskey follows the same logic, and it is produced in a single distillery. However, it is composed of a mixture of unmalted and malted barley, and it must be completely distilled in a pot still. Raw and unmalted grain is introduced in the mash, which makes this type different from the single malt Whiskey.

Older bottlings and even memorabilia contain its old names, which were “Irish pot still Whiskey” and “pure pot still”. It was the commonest style of Whiskey until the 20th century when blends started to become famous.

Related: Cognac Vs Bourbon: What’s The Difference?

There are also two additional types of Irish Whiskey, which are:

Grain Whiskey

If the Irish Whiskey is produced from continuous distillation in a Coffey still or a column, it is called a grain Whiskey instead of the traditional pot still.

This style can be made of a big variety of grains. Because of its production method, it is lighter and more neutral than the typical Irish Whiskey. Therefore, this beverage is commonly used to make blended Whiskey instead of being used on its own.

Blended Whiskey

The blended Whiskey is a mixture of all the said types of Irish Whiskey, which were single malt Irish Whiskey, single pot still Whiskey, and Grain Whiskey.

It is all labeled the same regardless of the types used and the amount used. Nowadays, blended Whiskey is the most consumed and popular style of Irish Whiskey.

What Are The Types Of Scotch?

There are two basic and main types of Scotch Whisky which are the base for all blends. They are:

Single grain Scotch Whisky

It is made at a single distillery. However, in addition to water and malted barley, it may involve whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals.

The “single grain” in its name does not mean that only a single type of grain was used to produce the whisky; rather, “single” refers only to the use of a single distillery (and making a “single grain” requires using a mixture of grains).

The single grain Scotch Whisky has a delicate, mellow taste, being smooth and having notes of lemon zest, citrus, and vanilla on the nose.

Single malt Scotch Whisky

As the last one, the single malt Scotch Whisky must be produced in a single distillery using a pot still distillation process. It must be made from a mash of malted barley, hence the “malt”.

About 10% of the Scotch Whiskies available to buy are defined as single malt, while the rest is composed of numerous whiskies, usually two-thirds grain Whisky. Overall, they are known as “blended Scotch Whisky”.

If you’re curious to know, the “malt” means that the whisky was distilled from a “malted” barley.

Now that you know the basics let’s move on to the blended types of Scotch. There are three of them, which are:

Blended grain Scotch Whisky

The blended grain Scotch is a spirit composed of the blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from distinguished distilleries.

Blended malt Scotch Whisky

The blended malt Scotch Whisky is a beverage made by the blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from distinguished distilleries as well.

Blended Scotch Whisky

Finally, the blended Scotch Whisky is composed of the union of the two basic types. Therefore, it is made by the blend of one or more single malt Scotch Whiskies with the same amount of single grain Scotch whiskies.

Is Irish Whiskey Better Than Scotch?

The answer depends on your taste. Currently, Scotch Whisky is certainly more consumed than Irish Whiskey by far. We all know the Johnnie Walker beverage, right? Well, it is a Scotch whisky label, the most famous worldwide.

However, that doesn’t mean much. Both whiskies have their similarities in taste, but they are quite different. The Irish Whiskey is sweeter and lighter, perfect for those who are starting to discover the pleasures of Whiskeys or want to drink a sweet beverage.

The Scotch Whisky is a bit tougher, usually having more alcohol and a stronger taste. It can even have a smokey taste depending on its production method. It is certainly a complex beverage that needs a bit of experience to be truly appreciated, but it is worth it if you like stronger tastes.

Is Irish Whiskey More Like Bourbon Or Scotch?

Bourbon is the type of Whiskey produced in the United States. It is primarily composed of corn, and though it doesn’t have a required age, most Bourbons are over four years old.

The Irish Whiskey has more in common with Bourbon regarding production methods. However, its taste is similar to Scotch. So, you can say that Irish Whiskey is more like Scotch than Bourbon.

Honestly, they are all different spirits that have unique flavors, so the best you can do is to taste them all.

Does Irish Whiskey Taste Like Scotch?

Not really. It has a unique flavor, but it does share similarities with Scotch. Overall, Irish Whiskey is sweeter and lighter.

What’s The Difference Between Whiskey And Whisky?

That question was probably something that was bugging you during the entire article. After all, what’s the difference between the word “whiskey” and “whisky”?

Well, the difference is the country in which the spirit is produced. If it is produced in the United States and Ireland, it is called Whiskey. However, if it is produced in Japan, Canada, and Scotland, it is called whisky.

Chad Smith

Meet Chad Smith, a seasoned bartender with a passion for mixology. He's the founder of Tin Roof Drink Community, a blog where he shares expert tips, creative recipes, and fosters a vibrant community of cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring bartenders. Join Chad as he takes you on a flavorful journey through the world of drinks. Cheers!

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