Irish Whiskey vs Scotch Whisky: What’s the Difference?

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Choosing between the best in Irish whiskey vs Scotch Whisky has long been contested. Whether you’re going for a smoother taste or hoping to catch a slight ethanol tang at the back of your throat, there is always something in store for you when drifting through the Whisky aisle. 

So, what’s the difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey anyway? The tastes differ greatly depending on who you ask, but there are at least six notable differences in production that give each one its unique flavor and reputation. 

Glen Grant Single Malt, Speyside Scotland

Irish Whiskey vs Scotch Whisky

While Ireland may have introduced whiskey into the world, the Scottish were the ones to put it on the map. In Scotland, whisky making is a lot more law-bound as they have regulations for every step of the production process. Ireland is somewhat more relaxed and offers master distillers more freedom and creativity in their approach. 

Ingredients and Methods

Is Irish whiskey and Scotch similar in any way? Other than falling within the same bracket along the spectrum of merriment and the joy of sipping on a lovely whiskey cocktail, they tend to use similar ingredients. 

Grains produce both Irish and Scotch whiskey. While barley is the main component in both spheres, how it is prepared and the accompanying ingredients can change the flavor profile. 

Malted barley is used most prominently; distillers may also add some unmalted barley to speed up the process. This is quite a common feature of the pot-stilled distillation process. At times, other grains like corn or rye can be added — although this is primarily practiced in Scotland. 


Distillation, Ageing, and Climate

To start, the distillation process is probably the most obvious. You’ve likely heard of Jameson, triple distilled? It’s pretty standard in Ireland, unlike Scotland, where distillers tend to perform the distillation process only twice. 

Irish vs Scotch whiskey can also vary based on how long it has been left to age. After the product is distilled, multiple scientific reactions take place while the whiskey is stored in a barrel for maturation. 

In Scottish distilleries, the regulation stands that only oak barrels can be used. In Ireland, master distillers have more free reign. Oak barrels tend to be the better option, but playing around with different barrels allows you to come up with some unique possibilities. 

Much of the tastes and aromas are beautiful products from the kind of barrel in use. Scottish whiskey tends to be a rougher taste or will have aged longer to achieve something smoother, especially since Scotland sees cooler climates. 

As with any chemical reaction, the heat will speed up fermentation and maturation; Ireland is privy to higher temperatures and will have smoother tastes with shorter maturation ages. 

Additional Elements

One of the absolute differences between Irish vs Scottish whisky lies in the enzymes that promote maturation. Since the maturing process involves turning sugars into alcohol, some distillers would throw in yeast or another active ingredient to hasten the process. This practice is allowed in Ireland and disallowed in Scotland. 

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irish whiskey tasting
Irish Whiskey

Final Say on the Difference Between Irish Whiskey and Scotch

So, since whisky needs to be created in a specific place to receive the full title, there is no such thing as Irish Scotch whiskey. Better yet — two regions that have crafted their product and refined their processes to bring you the very best that malted barley can create. 

The difference between Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky is evident through a range of factors. Whether you’re looking at the use of malted barley or purely grain, warmer temperatures, or around two decades of aging, there are tons of factors that influence the taste of your favorite whiskey. 


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whiskey differences

8 thoughts on “Irish Whiskey vs Scotch Whisky: What’s the Difference?

  1. Sunil Jon says:

    Thanks Angela for a fantastic article. Being an Indian, i have grown up on scotch whisky without know the difference between the Irish or Scotch or even US. Now that I Dian single malt is also going international, your article was a real informative one. Waiting for another article from you Indian single malts. Thanks always.

  2. Thomas King says:

    Scotland didn’t put whisky on the map as much as history. In the 1800s Irish whisky was more popular, but after 1909, British tariffs, WWI and Prohibition decimated Irish whiskey industry.

  3. Andrew Brown says:

    You missed a very, very important point. The malt for scotch is dried by heating over peat fires. The smoke creates a lot of the taste of scotch. No other whisky or whiskey does this. I like Irish whisky very much and also straight bourbon and rye. Blended American and Canadian whiskies are ok but I really dislike scotch.

    • Laura says:

      That is true of most Scotch, but not all. The grains can be dried without peat, either by air drying or with the use of wood. So not all Scotch is peated.

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