What's The Difference Between Irish And Scotch Whisky?

They may go by the same name, but there are some key differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky beyond the fact that one spells the name with the letter E. Both countries began to craft the golden spirit sometime in the 15th century, but because the timeline isn't any clearer than this, both Ireland and Scotland lay fierce claims on originating the drink, and each boasts it makes the world's best. 

Similar in appearance, both versions use a distilling process involving fermented grain that is left to age for a minimum of three years before being sold. It's during the distilling process that Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey diverge and develop their unique flavors. While the processes of making whiskey are similar in Scotland and Ireland, Irish makers have a bit more flexibility than Scottish distilleries, which strongly restrict how the drink is made. As a result, there is a greater variety of whiskeys in Ireland, but as to the question of which is better, it's entirely up to personal taste.

Smooth and light Irish whiskey

The thing people most identify with Irish whiskey is its smoothness, which is owed to the fact that it's distilled three times — once more than the Scottish variety and also for longer durations. While Scotch whisky has other good qualities, it doesn't have the lightness Irish whiskey possesses.  

A mix of cereal grains like corn, wheat, and barley is generally used to make Irish whiskey, whereas Scotch whisky uses malted barley exclusively. But as mentioned, many of the conventions around making whiskey in Ireland are not set in stone. Single-pot whiskey, which is the Irish take on single-malt whisky, uses a single grain at a single distillery and is barrel aged. However, unlike Scotch whisky, single-pot can use both malted and unmalted barley.

After the whiskey is distilled, it is aged to develop its taste, which finishes on the sweet side; it is often described as having a fruity or honeyed quality.

Smokey Scotch whisky

Scottish whisky (aka Scotch) typically has a peaty and smoky flavor,the nuances of which are affected largely by where it was made and by whom. In Scotland, great significance is placed on which of the five regions (Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay) the whisky was created, where the idiosyncrasies in the process provide a unique taste, just like wine. Despite the variety of Scotch producers, all scotch whisky must fall into one of the categories outlined by the latest Scotch Whisky Regulations: single malt, blended malt, single grain, blended grain, and blended.

To connoisseurs, single malt is considered the whiskiest of whiskys — made from 100% malted barley and distilled in a copper pot before being aged in oak barrels. Blended scotch is also a popular, if adulterated, variety made by mixing single malts with some kind of grain whisky — most commonly wheat — before it's aged in a cask that may have been previously used for wine or other spirits. A malty depth is the predominant flavor character of Scotch whisky, which is achieved by soaking the grains in water prior to distilling. This allows the grains to sprout and accelerates the fermentation process of converting starch to sugars.   

While Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey have their differences, both can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, as part of a cocktail, or however you may like.