While there’s no reason you can’t enjoy both, there’s a good chance you’re either a single malt scotch or a bourbon drinker. Whiskey novices might not always be able to tell the difference between the two, but to true whiskey fans, these two branches of the whiskey family tree couldn’t be more different. In the simplest terms, bourbon is corn-based while single malt scotch is malted barley-based. The result is a widely divergent set of flavors and finishes.
Bourbon is typically much sweeter than scotch — withs hints of charred oak, vanilla, and caramel. Scotch meanwhile is richer, oftentimes spicier and, if peated, smokier. Depending on the peat level, it can be like breathing in a bonfire.
“Scotch has so many different styles that it’s a little harder to recommend a bourbon for a scotch drinker unless you know what they like,” says Zach Wilks, bartender at Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel, Indiana. “I’m a big fan of the super smoky, peaty, medicinal Scotches that come from Islay and those don’t remind you of too many bourbons.”
“An easy way to go would be to say try a bourbon with lots of barley in the mash bill,” he notes. “There are some great options for that.”
To help you discover those options, we asked some of our favorite bartenders for help. They were nice enough to tell us their picks for the best bottles of bourbon for fans of scotch.
Old Forester 1910
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Not sure whether to have an OF 1910 or 1920… then just make it a 1915 with half of each. / / #oldforesterbourbon #oldforester1910 #oldforester1920 #oldforesterdistillery #thebourbonenthusiast #bourbonhunters #breakingbourbon #bourbondrinkers #hashtag #kentuckystraightbourbon #kentuckybourbon #thebourbonalliance #bourbon #bourbonlife #bourbonlifestyle #bourbonenthusiast #bourboncountry #deckpour #bourbongram #instabourbon
Jose Carrasco, bartender in Sacramento, California
In my opinion, Old Forester’s Whiskey Row collection has some great bourbon for the Scotch lover’s palate. Just like there are regions with unique taste profiles in Scotch, Old Forester was able to present bourbon at different proofs, mashes, and characteristics.
I think Old Forester 1910 would make some Scotch drinkers do a double-take. I think the “rules” are a little looser now, and distillers are making different whiskeys to enjoy.
Kings County Peated Bourbon
Jackie Keogh, bartender at The Lobby Bar at Four Seasons Resort in Orlando
Kings County Peated Bourbon is a bold robust whiskey that would captivate Scotch fans from Glenmorangie Lasanta to Lagavulin 16. The sweet combination from the bourbon paired with the peat from lends to a floral, fruity nose with smoldering wood accents.
It dances across the palate with dark berry, chai tea, honey, and vanilla notes ending with a grand finish of spice.
Hudson Back Room Deal
Sebastien Derbomez, brand advocacy manager at William Grant & Sons
The Back Room Deal from Hudson Whiskey will be my recommendation. They send their ex-bourbon barrels across the Atlantic where they’re used to age peated whiskey, then emptied and returned to the distillery where they fill them up again with straight rye whiskey.
There’s nothing sinister about it, it’s just how the world works. A bit of smoke, a bit of spice. Good enough to seal the deal.
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Tonight’s Moderator. ————————————————————— Cheers! #BuffaloTrace #BuffaloTraceDistillery #BuffaloTraceBourbon #Bourbon #BourbonHeritageMonth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #whiskey #whisky #bourbonwhiskey #straightbourbon #bourbongram #🥃 #whiskeysour #whiskeygram #scotch #bourbonporn #whiskeyporn #bourbonlover #whiskygram #kentuckybourbon #kentucky #whiskeylover #whiskyporn #instawhiskey #cheers #bourbonlife #drinks #whiskylover #instabourbon #bottles #winesetcroslyn
Jess Thorson, bartender at TORO Kitchen & Lounge in Snowmass, Colorado
Buffalo Trace is my pick. It’s affordable and easy to find. The perfect spirit for perfecting your signature fall cocktail. Filled with caramel and vanilla sweetness. Great on its own or in a cocktail.
Belle Meade Sherry Cask
Jarred Craven, founder of Craven Cocktails and member of USBG in Los Angeles
With so many beloved Scotch whiskies finished in a sherry cask, why not try a sherry cask bourbon? Belle Meade Sherry Cask Finish is leathery with notes of dried fruit and caramel along with, of course, sherry. A great choice for a scotch drinker looking to explore bourbon
High West Campfire
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Beautiful day capped off with a beautiful night! Seemed fitting to have a pour of High West “Campfire” by the fire. A nice Oliva “Serie V Melanio Gran Reserva Limitada” (longest cigar name ever) to complement the pour! Cheers everyone! Sanity is slowly returning! #highwestdistillery #highwestcampfire #drinkhighwest #olivacigars #olivaserievmelaniogranreservalimitada #whiskeyfishin #dad_bod_drinkingteam #firepitwhiskeyandcigars #cheers
Zach Wilks, bartender at Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel, Indiana
I’m going to recommend one from my favorite distilleries: High West out in Park City, Utah. It’s called Campfire and it’s a blend of bourbon, rye, and peated scotch whiskey so you get everything you love about bourbon with some spice from the rye and a big hit of that smoke and peat right upfront.
Angel’s Envy Port Cask
Gabriel Urrutia, co-founder Drink Miami and USBG member in Miami. Florida
I love Angels Envy’s Finished in Port Cask. It’s a perfect sipper that’s long-lasting, tasty, and perfect for the fall. It’s a great whiskey to bridge the gap between scotch and bourbon.
Warbringer Mesquite-Smoked Southwest Bourbon
Jeremy Allen, bartender at MiniBar in Los Angeles
If you run out of scotch — and who lets this happen? — the scotch drinker might have to settle for bourbon. If this unfortunate occasion arises, he or she can attempt to make it through the night by holding his or her nose and drinking something strong, like Warbringer Mesquite-Smoked Southwest Bourbon.
Then get your ass to the store first thing tomorrow.
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Yellowstone bourbon from Limestone Distilling is perfect for those trying to mingle between categories. It’s a bourbon, but with a 12% barley finish in the mash bill, the lingering idea of single malts is haunting the background. It’s light in body and has a fair amount of wood and citrus on the nose. Upfront, it’s dry lumber, apricot, and black pepper. Eventually, it gives in to its “malty-ness” with honey and apricot and a lingering finish of malted barley.
Efren López Fernandez, bartender at Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Play del Carmen Mexico
Knob Creek is my go-to. It has aromas that remind me of caramelized corn, in addition to the very subtle wood notes. It’s perfect for fans of Scotch who want to broaden their whiskey choices.
Fistful of Bourbon
Anna Mains, Monkey Shoulder brand ambassador
William Grant & Sons just came out with Fistful of Bourbon and it’s unique. It’s a blend of five different bourbons and is perfect for anyone that loves a smooth whiskey or is just trying to get into bourbon. Especially those who usually stick to scotch.
J. Riddle Peated Bourbon
This offering brings together two sides of the whiskey coin. It’s a well-rounded bourbon that pairs the corn sweetness of bourbon with the astringent, smoky flavor of a nice glass of Islay Scotch.