Bourbon vs. Scotch

This week on Twitter I made the rather bold statement that I think standard Bourbons are generally better than standard Single Malts. To back this up, I feel I have to write a little bit about it. I should start by explaining what I consider standards in both categories.

Mortal KombatA standard bourbon is an easy to define but limited category. In my opinion I’m qualifying the lowest priced distillery named bottlings. Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam. They all have a bottle out there that is a regular bourbon, no small batch, no limited edition and it carries the distillery’s name. The same goes for Scotch. The standards there are very similar to categorize, but there’s just a LOT more. I’m talking Glenfiddich 12, Bowmore Legend, Highland Park 12, Laphroaig 10 and so on, et cetera.

I came to this conclusion after about a decade of drinking whisky: I really enjoy most of the standard bourbons and became a bit bored with the standard Scotches. This might sound like I’m really spoiled, which would be true. There are exceptions of course. I really don’t like the Jim Beam white label. And then there’s Lagavulin 16. But still, in general, I’m much happier with a glass of Wild Turkey 101 of Maker’s Mark than I am with Caol Ila 10 or Auchentoshan Select. Even when I consider the fact that in standard Scotch there is a load more choice (100 distilleries to a handful big ones in Kentucky).

If you take one step up from standard editions and go into the € 50 range you can start to count independent bottlers, NDP (non-distiller producer) and products with different names (like Jim Beam’s Knob Creek). Things are very different and much less clear here. In this category I think the balance is about even. Luckily there recently have been some very decent Scotches for very decent prices (Auchentoshan Valinch comes to mind), otherwise bourbon would win out on price/quality here too.

The premium category is mostly depending on decent pricing which in my case (in Europe) is easily won by Scotch. It’s not that bourbon, rye and other American products are absurdly priced, but they are if you start looking what they cost in America: Sazerac 18 at $90/100 to € 140 ($ 172 at current rates), Eagle Rare 10 at $ 25 ($ 50 in NL).

What is a very deciding factor in this equasion is the sheer variety in Scotch that is available here. You don’t want to drink the same booze every day and the fact that I usually don’t mind spending a tenner more to get in the not-so-standard-category of limited editions. I have noticed that, in general, I have started buying more non-single malt products over the last year. So, after all is said and done, it seems variety is still king!

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About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm a web developer at Emakina. I'm highly interested in booze, with a focus on whisk(e)y and beer. I like to listen to loads of music and read an occasional book. I'm married to Anneke, have a daughter Ot and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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4 Responses to Bourbon vs. Scotch

  1. Alex G says:

    I’m new to whisky and just trying hard to understand single malts. However, i keep coming back to TN whiskey and KY bourbons. Being in TN I try to just chalk it up to my upbringing…… but dang the local stuff is just that good.

  2. Tomek Miler says:

    Though I write my blog in Polish I will very soon be dealiing with the same SM vs bourbon issue. In Poland bourbons are looked down on by serious SM whisky fans and not known by average consumers. Generally we are left with JD (not bourbon but whatever), JB and Four Roses that has recently been introduced by Pernod Ricard. I am also a serious fan of bourbon whisky and I can appreciate the different nature bourbon carries.
    I think that what makes basic expression of bourbons so good compared to their Scotch counterparts (if you can do this at all) is fresh wood. Now a lot of people say that fresh oak equals fresh tannins that are not so good on the palate but I think that fresh wood provides some consistent level of quality that huge Scotch distilleries are unable to deliver due to limited wood availability. The effect is that they will age several times in the same barrel devoiding its whisky of complexity.
    Greetings from Poland and keep up the good work with your blog!

    • Thanks for your reply Tomek! Bourbon is only now beginning to get some positive press in the Netherlands. It has been looked down upon and still is by many whisky drinkers. Luckily, this (for now) means that prices are fairly okay, even though the prices are sometimes more than twice as high as in the USA. Plus, limited bottlings don’t run out as quickly!

      • Tomek Miler says:

        Indeed! I was just drinking Willett 25 yo and apparently it was from the same cask that you tasted :) I think that US prices also have a lot to do with taxes and they differ state to state too.

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