irish whiskey vs scotch

Irish Whiskey vs Scotch – What Are The Differences?

Those that like spirits have heard of Irish whiskey and Scotch. Have you tried either? If so, can you tell the difference? 

Here we will discuss what Irish whiskey and Scotch are and how they differ from one another! Take a look, so you can make the best decision next time you are at a bar or liquor store. 

What Is Irish Whiskey?

Irish whiskey is a tale as old as time, and one of the greatest ways to make whiskey. This style of whiskey is triple distilled from unmalted barley, but it also contains grain whiskey. Irish whiskey may also be in the style of single malt.

As the name indicates, Irish whiskey is made entirely in Ireland, but it is popular across the globe. This whiskey has been around since the 12th century, and while production has changed, the drink remains a staple. By Irish law, all whiskey has to be aged a minimum of three years. 

There are different ways to produce Irish whiskey, but closed kilns are always used to the dry malt that is exposed to hot air but does not smoke. 

The fermentation process may also include additional enzymes to quicken the conversion of starches into alcohol. Then the mix is distilled copper pot stills three times. 

Nutrition Facts

One drink (35.5 ml) of Jameson Irish whiskey 40% ABV has the following nutritional content:

  • 79 calories
  • 11.2 g alcohol 
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat 
  • 0 g carbohydrate

Which Irish Whiskey Is The Best?

As you can see, Irish whiskey is regarded as one of the best spirits in the world. However, not all Irish whiskey is the same anymore. When you search for an Irish whiskey, you should be aware of which one is best for you.

Irish blend is the most popular kind of Irish whiskey, and the most famous brand is Jameson. This blend contains single grain and single malt whiskeys, but also single pot still Irish whiskey. The latter one contains malted and unmalted barley.

Single malt Irish whiskey is made from 100% malted barley, from a distillery in Ireland, and aged at least three years. This whiskey has a minimum of 40% ABV, but can be much higher. This whiskey is double-distilled as opposed to the triple-distilled regular Irish whiskey. 

Single grain Irish whiskey contains whole grains or cereals that are not malted barley. In this case, these can be maize or wheat and have to be distilled in a single distillery. This type of Irish whiskey is not as popular as other ones. 

Another type of Irish whiskey is called single pot still whiskey. This Irish whiskey by one distillery contains a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled in a pot still. Because of the mixture of ingredients, single pot still whiskey is a bit spicy. 

There is not one whiskey better than the others, but it is highly dependent on taste and price range. For some, the Irish blend is familiar, and thus superior, but for others, single malt is unique and better tasting. 

Single grain and single pot still Irish whiskey are often more expensive, and much harder to find. 

What Is Scotch?

Scotch is malt or grain whiskey that is made in Scotland. Originally, Scotch was made only with malted barley, but distilleries make wheat and rye scotch now as well. All Scotch whiskey has to be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

Like Irish whiskey, Scotch should be at least 40% ABV but can be much higher. Scotch bottles that contain a number on them have a guaranteed age. If there is no number, then the bottle is known as no age statement (NAS) and is only guaranteed to have been aged for three years. 

These days, you can find Scotch whiskey made everywhere in the world, with only about 20% made in Scotland. Scotch that is produced in the United States is referred to as bourbon. Like Irish whiskey, you can find different types of Scotch that depend on the region it was produced. 

Nutrition Facts

One drink (63 g) of Scotch whiskey has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 146 calories
  • 21 g alcohol 
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 0 g carbohydrate

Which Scotch Whiskey Is The Best?

Single malt Scotch whiskey is the most popular one these days. This is a whiskey that is made by one single distillery that uses only malted barley. There are no other cereals in this whiskey, and it has to be produced and bottled in Scotland. 

Another type of Scotch whiskey is single grain, which is not as common in the rest of the world. The production starts only with malted barley, but then whole grains or cereals are added. This is usually the Scotch that is used in blended whiskey as well. 

The next type of Scotch is a blended whiskey, which is made from at least one or more single malt whiskey blended with a single grain whiskey. 

Blended Scotch whiskey constitutes about 90% of all Scotch produced in Scotland. You may be familiar with some brands, such as Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal. 

One type of Scotch whiskey that is far less common across the world is blended malt Scotch. It was called a vatted malt or pure malt, and it is made using two or more malt Scotch whiskeys from different distilleries. This whiskey should not contain any grain whiskey at all. 

A final type of Scotch whiskey is double malt Scotch. However, this Scotch is no different except that it was aged in two or more types of casks. This whiskey remains in the single malt category, but it is often called double or triple malt instead. 

As with Irish whiskey, choosing the best Scotch whiskey depends mostly on taste and cost. For most, single malt Scotch is the purest, but it is also often the priciest. 

Some prefer the blended type because of its availability, while others search for blended malt Scotch if they want something new. 

What Are The Key Differences Between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whiskey?

The first and clear difference between these two whiskeys is their origin. Irish whiskey must be produced, aged, and bottled in Ireland. Scotch whiskey has to be produced, aged, and bottled in Scotland. 

Even though these two are whiskeys, they do not taste the same. Irish whiskey has a smoother slightly sweeter flavor because it comes from unmalted barley. Scotch whiskey is made from malted barley and tastes much heavier and smoky. 

Another difference between these two whiskeys is how they are distilled. Irish whiskey tends to be distilled three times in copper stills. Scotch whiskey distillers use copper stills but only double distill the whiskey. 

In terms of origin, these two whiskeys have different histories. Irish whiskey came first, and its use of unmalted barley came to be due to the “malt tax” that was in place in Ireland. In Scotland, whiskey came to be as we know it in the early 1800s, but it never had a problem using malted barley. 

The materials used in distillation also vary from one whiskey to the other. Both Ireland and Scotland use oak casks, but Irish whiskey may also use other types of casks. Scotch whiskey may be distilled in two or more different casks. 

A final difference between Irish and Scotch whiskey is the rules of distillation. 

For one, The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 states that this whiskey should not contain more than 94.8% ABV, and it has to age in wood for a minimum of three years, and the bottle should not be less than 40% ABV. 

In Scotland, casks must be oak, aging lasts for at least three years,  and the bottle should be less than 40% ABV.

Main DifferencesIrish WhiskeyScotch Whiskey
Origin IrelandScotland
ProductionIrish whiskey is produced from unmalted barley and tripled distilled in copper stills. Scotch whiskey is produced from malted barley and is only double distilled in copper stills. 
ColorPale gold to dark amberDark brown
Alcohol by volume (ABV) 40 to 94.8%40 to 66%
Taste and SmellIrish whiskey tastes lighter and slightly sweet. It may smell like tobacco, honey, vanilla, and citrus. Scotch whiskey tastes very strong, smoky, and almost leathery. It may smell like burned wood, sea salt, and smoke.  
Food PairingsBlue cheese, lamb, steak, and dark chocolateCheese, steak, dried fruit, and dark chocolate
Cost$16 to $200$25 to $399
Calories per 100g 250 calories 231 calories 

Is Irish Whiskey or Scotch Healthier?

Distilled spirits are healthier than other alcoholic beverages because they do not contain sugar. However, both Irish and Scotch whiskey contains a high alcoholic content. For these beverages to remain healthy, they must be consumed in moderation. 

When it comes to Irish whiskey, you can find lots of flavors and a very high alcoholic content depending on the variety. On the other hand, Scotch tends to remain within the 40-60% ABV. For less alcoholic content, Scotch is always a better choice, and less likely to cause a hungover. 

If you choose to drink Irish whiskey or Scotch whiskey, you should be careful with how much you consume. Always pair your drink with a glass of water, and take your time drinking it. 

You can also use both of these whiskeys in cocktails, though this will raise the caloric and sugar content. 

See more: Bourbon vs whiskey


You can now safely choose between Irish or Scotch whiskey when you go to your favorite bar or are at the local liquor store. These two beverages are popular everywhere, but there is a variation on which style you can find. 

Make sure to drink either or both of these responsibly and in moderation!

Up next: Does whiskey go bad?

*image by igorr1/depositphotos

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