39563948 – bourbon street in new orleans louisiana usa

 So, I might be biased on the bourbon vs scotch topic, but hopefully by the end of this article I’ll have piqued your interest. First, let’s have a look at the gentleman’s drink, scotch whisky (spelt differently to American and Irish whiskey). Large, luxury leather chairs with dark oak wood trimmings and businessmen sitting around sipping the golden nectar – is this not the image that pops into your head when someone says “single malt”? While grandeur and age statements entice the consumer to shell out more than a couple of Buffaloes, it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying, besides the reputation that often precedes scotch. Here’s what makes scotch, scotch:

While scotch, by legal standards must be aged for a minimum of 3 years, most single malts on the market start at 10 years old. But hang on, what was that last point there? It may be coloured with caramel colouring? It seems a bit cheeky to me, considering that bourbon whiskey, by law, may not be changed, flavoured or altered in any way.

So, what comes to mind when thinking of bourbon? Images of rock stars, socialites and infamous personalities with a bottle firmly in their grip and their position compromising. What people don’t understand, due to the very limited market in SA, is that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this American icon.


When you purchase a bottle of bourbon, it comes with a guarantee from the government of the United States that the whiskey inside is pure! It’s also important to understand what the label says on a bottle of bourbon:

  • “Kentucky” means that the whiskey must be made and aged in Kentucky for a minimum one year
  • “Straight” means that the bourbon must be at least 2 years’ old

So, why would I opt for a 7-year-old bourbon instead of a 10 or 12-year-old scotch? One simple factor: climate! Bourbon is made in a climate that is hot and humid as opposed to Scotland’s miserable, cold climate which means that barrel is constantly expanding and contracting, releasing flavourful goodness into the spirit. Essentially, because of the climate, bourbon ages twice as fast as scotch. Scotch has taken somewhat of a back seat at most of the global whiskey awards of late with bourbon, Japanese and Taiwanese (yup, Taiwanese) whiskey taking honours for quality and craftsmanship. Now, if you need convincing, try one of these amazing bourbon-based cocktails and perhaps the mixability of bourbon will sway you on this underrated spirit.

“Did you know that Jack Daniels is not a bourbon? While they follow the same guidelines as bourbon, Jack is made under the Lincoln county process which differs from bourbon legislation and allows the tipple to be filtered through maple charcoal before ageing.”

Here’s what makes Scotch Scotch …

  • Must be made in Scotland and aged in wood barrels for at least 3 years
  • Must be made from malted barley but other grains may be used in addition.
  • It cannot be distilled higher than 190 proof (95% ABV)
  • It MAY be coloured with caramel colouring

Per the federal code of regulations, bourbon must (strictly) follow these guidelines:

  • Must be made in the USA
  • Must be made from a minimum of 51% Corn
  • Cannot be distilled higher than 160 proof (80% ABV)
  • Cannot be put into the barrel higher than 125 proof (62.5% ABV)
  • Must be aged in NEW charred oak barrels
  • No colouring, flavour or filtering is permitted
  • If the whiskey is younger than 4 years, the distiller must display the actual age on the label

The Bourbon Sours

  • 50 ml Knob creek 9 year old
  • 25 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 12.5 ml simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters.

Add all ingredients into a shaker tin (without ice) and shake vigorously for ten seconds, then add ice and repeat! Strain over cubed ice in a whiskey tumbler with a lime wedge garnish


American Red Bush Cooler

  • 50ml Makers Mark Bourbon
  • 20ml Simple syrup
  • 1 squeezed lime wedge
  • 200ml freshly made, cooled Rooibos tea

Add all ingredients with ice into a shaker and shake hard for ten seconds. Strain over ice into a tall glass.


contributor – Keegan Smith

Keegan Smith is the owner and operator of the Barsmith bar and beverage services. He has over 14 years’ experience, is a multiple SA flair bar-tending champion and founder of Flair for Life foundation.

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