Wisdom from The Clubhouse

Scotch vs. Bourbon

One good round deserves another, and inevitably, nothing caps off the back nine like a nip of whiskey. And just as inevitably, the age-old question emerges: scotch or bourbon? Fact of the matter is, there is no right answer—one man’s Laphroaig is another man’s Blanton’s, and both will get the job done after the first glass or six. However, there are a few things worth considering when picking your poison.

First, let’s start with scotch, the older of the two spirits. Made from barley—same grain as most beer—scotch tends to have a slightly smoky and woody taste thanks to its peat-smoke malting process and decade(s) spent aging in a barrel. And as the name suggests, scotch comes from good old Caledonia, a.k.a. Scotland to most of us. In fact, the word “whisky” itself actually derives from the Gaelic term uisge beatha, which means “water of life.” Celtic monks picked up the secrets of wine-based brandy distillation while embarking on pilgrimages to Rome in the Middle Ages, and brought the techniques back with them to the Highlands. With only one problem: grapes didn’t really grow in Scotland, and the Scots weren’t exactly known for their wine. Those clever Scots circumvented that small hurdle by distilling beer instead, and just like that, scotch whisky was born.

Bourbon, on the other hand, came around a bit later, although it has roots in Scotland as well. When Scots-Irish immigrants began settling in the rugged frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee in the late 18th century, they arrived with whiskey stills in tow. But like their Celtic predecessors, those scrappy pioneers too had a conundrum: barley didn’t fare too well in the southern heat. Corn, on the other hand, definitely did, and within no time, they were whipping out batches of corn-based moonshine at a feverish pace. There are only so many hootenannies a man can throw, however, and some of that surplus corn liquor was put into charred oak barrels and sent down the Ohio river for trade—and just like that, barrel-aged bourbon was born.

As to which one to order at the 19th hole, that’s a question of personal taste. A win-win situation, you might even say. But if you’re looking to mix things up a bit, here’s something to consider: given scotch’s heritage in the cold, misty north, its dry smoky flavor tends to go pretty well with chillier rounds in winter and fall. Bourbon, on the other hand, with its roots firmly planted in the southern heat, might pair a little better with summer sunshine and grilled meats. But that certainly doesn’t mean a scotch-based Rob Roy in July or a bourbon-based Hot Toddy in January is a bad idea. Hell, make it a Rob Toddy if you feel like it.

Or even a Hot Roy. For your buddy Roy, if nothing else.