Irish whiskey vs. Scotch

by Paramount Digital
Scotch whisky vs. Irish whiskey

What’s the difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey?

Spoiler alert – it’s not just the letter ‘e’.

Admittedly, they have a very similar appearance, and both versions are created via a similar distillation process – which involves fermenting grain and leaving it to age for a minimum of 3 years. But it’s certainly not just their spelling that sets these spirits apart.

Read on to learn the need-to-know differences between the two. 

Irish whiskey

Triple distilled, twice as smooth.

Above all else, Irish whiskey is renowned for its light and smooth mouthfeel. Primarily, this is owed to the fact that it’s distilled three times – once more than a typical Scotch.

This extra distillation has a big effect on the final flavour.

Both of these types of whisk(e)y may be produced in copper pot stills. But as Irish varieties tend to be triple distilled (rather than double), they’re usually much lighter and smoother than Scotch, and are often described as having a fruity or honeyed quality with hints of vanilla.

Due to this ease of taste, Irish whiskies are commonly used to make blends.

Unlike Scotch, the rules and conventions surrounding its production are also a little less restricted.

Irish whiskey must be mashed, fermented and distilled at no more than 94.8% ABV and should always be aged for a minimum of 3 years. But it can be made from a wide range of cereal grains, including corn, wheat and both malted and unmalted barley. A difference that further adds to its unique flavour – typically leading to a sweet, light and smooth taste. 


Barrel of Irish whiskey


Scotch whisky

Full and heavy, with layers of complexity.

In most cases, Scotch whisky is only distilled twice (rather than three times). 

Compared to Irish varieties, this may seem like a very subtle difference in the production process, but it can have a profound effect on the final taste – typically leading to a much fuller and heavier whisky.

Scottish distilleries have a lot less flexibility in terms of how they make their dram.

To be legally classed as a ‘Scotch’, it must be produced at a distillery in Scotland using only malted barley, water and yeast – to which whole grains of other cereals may be added. It also has to be distilled at a minimum of 94.8%, matured for at least 3 years in oak casks and bottled at no less than 40%.

These strict production rules, generally speaking, lead to a smokey and peaty flavour. However, the nuances of this are largely affected by the distillery where each whisky is made and its region.

There are currently five traditionally recognised whisky-producing regions in Scotland, including Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Speyside and Islay. And due to the idiosyncrasies in the exact production process employed by each region, the resultant whiskies typically have a very distinct taste.


Scotch whisky


Any common ground?

At their closest point, the coastlines of Scotland and Ireland may only be approximately 12 miles apart – yet despite this proximity, they produce two very different spirits. In fact, the only real common ground between the two is that they both taste delicious!

Which is the best?

Both countries began to craft the golden spirit in the 15th century, and both fiercely claim they produce the best whiskies in the world. But the reality is, it comes down to personal preference.

Only your tastebuds can tell you which is your favourite style, and the easiest way to find out is via trial and error. Which, from where we’re standing, sounds like the perfect excuse to enjoy an afternoon of Irish whiskey vs. Scotch tasting.

 Scottish whisky tasting set


Here at Whisky Tasting Company, admittedly, we are a bit one-sided.

Whilst we can certainly appreciate the light and smooth flavours of an Irish dram, Scotch whisky is our true passion. Which is why, most of our whisky tasting sets predominantly include spirits from the foggy glens of Scotia – and we even have a specific set that’s dedicated to our favourites.

Available for just £27.95, this Scotch Whisky Tasting Set features four fabulous, premium varieties from the Highland, Speyside and Islay regions, including:

  • Arran Barrel Reserve Highland Single Malt
  • Speyburn Aged 10 Years
  • Old Pulteney Aged 12 Years
  • Finlaggan Islay Single Malt

Plus an artisan blend from the multi-award-winning Compass Box Whisky Company. 

Each set contains a generous 30ml measure of each; just enough to sample and compare the unique flavour profile of each. As well as luxury tasting cards, which contain interesting facts and information about the whiskies and their distilleries and the key tastes and aromas to look out for.

So, why not order yours today and give our best-loved Scotch whiskies a go? We’d love to know what you think, so be sure to tag us on social media – using @WhiskyTastingCo – with your verdict.

If you’re still not 100% clear on the difference between Scotch and Irish whisky or have a question about our Scotch Whisky Tasting Set (or any of the other whisky tasting sets available in our store), please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Whisky is our specialist subject and we’re always happy to help in any way that we can.