Difference between Rye Whiskey and Scotch

Key Difference: Rye whiskey is a type of whiskey that can be used to refer to one of two things. The first one is American Rye Whiskey, which is made from rye and Canadian Whiskey, which may or may not include rye in production. Scotch or scotch whiskey is actually a type of whiskey that is processed in Scotland. The term is legally reserved to whiskey that is produced in Scotland. It is originally made from malt barley, but during the 18th century distilleries started producing whiskies made from wheat and rye.

Rye whiskey and Scotch are two different types of whiskies that are available in the market. These are completely different in terms of ingredients, taste, aroma, etc. They should not be confused as the same thing or even as simple whiskey. Rye whiskey is usually referred to as Canadian Whiskey, while Scotch is actually Scottish Whiksy.

Rye whiskey is a type of whiskey that can be used to refer to one of two things. The first one is American Rye Whiskey, which is made from rye and Canadian Whiskey, which may or may not include rye in production. These two are different from each other in content and taste. Rye is a grass that is commonly used as a grain and a forage crop. Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, some whiskeys, some vodkas, and animal fodder. Rye is described to impart a spicy and fruity flavor to the whiskey. Originally, rye was the most common whiskey that was available in the northeastern states, but largely disappeared after the Prohibition. It has recently started gaining popularity again.

The American Rye Whiskey, by law, is required to be distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye. The other ingredients are usually corn and malted barley. The drink must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and above 80% ABV. Similar to other whiskeys, the drink must then be aged in charred, new oak barrels before they can be sold. Rye Whiskey that has been aged for more than two years can also be labeled as ‘straight rye whiskey’.

Canadian whiskey was originally referred to as rye whiskey because it used to be made primarily from rye. However, there are no strict guidelines stating how much rye must be used in the whiskey to label them rye whiskey. Hence, according to the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations these whiskeys can be labeled as ‘rye’ provided they "possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky.” In some cases, the ratio of corn-to-rye that is used in whiskey production could be 9:1. Alberta Premium is one of the few exceptions to this and produces whiskey made from 100% rye mash. The Canadian whiskey must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in small 700 liter wooden (new or charred, either is fine) barrels for them to be able to use the ‘Canadian Whisky’, ‘Canadian Rye Whisky’ and ‘Rye Whisky’ labels.

Scotch or scotch whiskey is actually a type of whiskey that is processed in Scotland. The term is legally reserved to whiskey that is produced in Scotland. It is originally made from malt barley, but during the 18th century distilleries started producing whiskies made from wheat and rye. In short, scotch is basically just a whiskey that was produced in Scotland, nothing more. According to the Scotch Whisky Regulations, scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. First written mention of Scotch whisky was in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495 by a friar named John Cor, who was a distiller.

Scotch Whisky Association classifies scotch into five distinct categories.

  • Single malt Scotch whisky: This whisky is produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills.
  • Single grain Scotch whisky: This whisky is distilled at a single distillery, but it can also include whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals, in addition to malted barley and water.
  • Blended malt Scotch whisky: This whisky includes a mixture of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries
  • Blended grain Scotch whisky: This whisky includes a mixture of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
  • Blended Scotch whisky: This whisky includes a mix of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.

The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 set by the Scotch Whiskey Association defines ‘scotch’ as:

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
  • Processed at that distillery into a mash
  • Converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems
  • Fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast
  • Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% (190 US proof)
  • Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years
  • Retaining the color, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
  • Containing no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel coloring
  • Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% (80 US proof)

In a nutshell, the major difference between the two drinks is the place where the drinks are produced and the main ingredient of the drink. While, rye whiskey needs to be made from at least 51% rye mash (in America) or have the taste and the aroma of rye (in Canada) to be labeled as such, scotch needs to be made in Scotland and is made using malted barley in many distilleries. Both the drinks must be matured in 700 liter oak casks (which can either be new or charred) for a minimum of three years before it can be bottled and sold. However, rye whiskey produced in the US does not require to be aged. Both drinks are still considered as a type of whiskey.

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