Single malt scotches were often considered superior to other whiskeys, but it looks like this supremacy may well come to an end. Indeed, even though Scottish water of life has dominated for quite a long time, its rivals have already got close. For now, given the demand for rare bourbons and ryes on major auctions, the whiskey comparison of scotch vs. bourbon vs. rye is no longer so clear-cut.
So last year, the barrel of Michter’s bourbon has fetched an astounding $210 thousand at a charity auction in London, which was the highest price ever paid for a single barrel of bourbon anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, a Vermont distillery, experimenting with blending straight Canadian rye, has received a warm welcome by whiskey drinkers, willing to pay $500 for a bottle.
Although it cannot be yet said that these results have seriously challenged the dominance of luxury Scotch brands, they demonstrate the superior quality of products from the American and Canadian distilleries and their distinctive appeal. Here is more on what makes a Scotch whisky, how old bourbons now command the prices of old scotches, and how rye, once the most popular US whiskey around 200 years ago, is now returning from oblivion.
If a whiskey (or whisky, in this case) is called scotch, it can come only from Scotland. Contrary to popular misconception, Scotch whiskies are far from all being single malts. In fact, according to the report from the Scotch Whisky Association, more than 90% of scotches are blended with grain whisky, made of wheat and even corn.
Blended scotches go in various categories, from $20 to $250,000 a bottle, with the latter being the price for limited-edition Tribute to Honour whisky by Royal Salute (with its mash bill is yet unknown). Still, the best-known and most exclusive scotches are single malts. Unlike malt whiskeys from other parts of the world, which can also include corn and rye, scotch malts are always made using 100% malted barley.
Trying to describe the taste of best scotches in a few sentences would disrespect the centuries of Scottish whisky craftsmanship. It would also fall short of outlining the difference between whiskies coming from five different regions of Scotland.
However, for our scotch vs. bourbon vs. rye whiskey comparison, it would suffice to say that malt whisky would taste “malty” (which is pretty obvious ), that is a little sweet and nutty with a flavor of caramel or coffee. It would also have a velvety texture and taste smoky, with smokiness amplified by peat when it is used as fuel for drying wet barley during whisky production. Other predominant flavors of scotches include fruitiness and vanilla resulting from aging in oak barrels.
Scotch single malts are top of the class, and many people consider them superior to other whiskeys. To be a single malt, whisky should come from a single distillery, although it can be a mix from different casks. However, most expensive Scotch single malts are drawn from one barrel, such as Macallan 60-year old Find and Rare selling for $1.9 million coming from sacred cask No. 263.
Scotch single malts do not always cost millions, and you can find whiskies from such renowned distilleries as Macallan, Balvenie, Dalmore, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet for below $100 a bottle. Meanwhile, the same distilleries produce whiskies that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are often sold on major auctions.
Bourbon is a distinct American whiskey with at least 51% corn in its mash bill (the term for grain recipe), responsible for its sweeter notes. It was grossly undervalued for a long time, and you could easily find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, one of the best American whiskeys on the market, for around $100 a bottle just a decade ago.
But for now, this all has changed, whiskey lovers are hunting for Pappy, and bourbons are sold at prices of old scotches. Another example of highly appreciated bourbons is the produce of the Mitcher’s Kentucky distillery drawing on the legacy of first America’s whiskey maker known from 1753. In the year 2014, Michter’s has succeeded in fetching almost $210 thousand for the barrel selection of its 10-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon on London auction.
Today, Michter’s distillery prides itself on producing one of the finest bourbons and rye whiskeys in the United States, with prices starting from $40-50 per bottle for its US1 Bourbon and reaching up to $3,700-$5,000 per bottle for limited releases. Meanwhile, the list of America’s most exclusive bourbons goes on and includes many other renowned brands, such as already mentioned Pappy Van Winkle, Old Rip Van Winkle (a “sister” brand to the Pappy), Old Fitzgerald (aka ‘Old Fitz’), AH Hirsch and others, which can go as high as several thousand dollars a bottle and are much sought after by collectors.
When compared vs. scotch or vs. bourbon, rye whiskey is often mentioned as being on a spicy and peppery side of the spectrum. Rye has long been considered an inferior and cheaper alternative to bourbon, but this might change quite soon. In fact, aged rye was more popular than quality bourbon before Prohibition, and it looks like it is now coming back after almost a century in lethargy.
During the last decade, the rye whiskey segment has received new momentum. Rye’s renaissance was marked by the revival of America’s oldest rye whiskey brand, Monongahela, and the success of the WhistlePig distillery in Vermont and Michter’s in Kentucky. In particular, WhistePig’s bold experiments with blending Canadian whiskey have received a warm reception from whiskey lovers.
The WhistlePig distillery was started in 2007 in Vermont by Raj Bhakta, who wasn’t shy about experimenting with blending and aging the best Canadian rye whiskey in used Sauterne, Madeira and Port barrels. These experiments have finally lead to a huge success with WhistlePig Boss Hog whiskey, achieved through blending and aging sixteen-year-old Canadian rye in Japanese Umeshu barrels used for aging plum wine. Today, a bottle of The Boss Hog VII sells well above $500 and has good chances to appreciate, given the popularity of WhistlePig’s earlier release finished in French Armagnac casks, now offered by resellers for over $1,000 a bottle.