What is the Difference Between Whisky and Bourbon?

If you’re not someone who drinks a lot of whisky, the difference between whisky and bourbon might not be noticeable. After all, they are both dark spirits that are aged in barrels, right? Wrong! Although the two drinks have a lot in common, they are worlds apart, which we’ll cover off in this blog post.

So, what is the difference between whisky and bourbon? The first thing you should know is that, just like champagne is a type of wine, bourbon is also a type of whisky. So, all bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon. Confused? Continue reading to discover all diferences.

Table of Contents

  1. Whisky vs Bourbon – Where do they originate from?
  2. What is the difference between whisky and bourbon’s ingredients?
    1. Bourbon must be produced in the US
    2. Must be aged in charred oak barrels
    3. Bourbon Has to Hit Certain ABV Marks
  3. Whisky vs Bourbon – The Taste
  4. Is Tennessee whiskey the same as bourbon?
  5. The best way to drink whisky and bourbon

Whisky vs Bourbon – where do they originate from?

One of the main differences between whisky and Bourbon is geographic. In order for a whisky to be Bourbon it must be created in the USA. Actually, 95% of Bourbon come from Kentucky due to the limestone water found here that makes it an ideal location to filter out impurities from the whiskey, such as iron.

Whisky, on the other hand, is typically made in Scotland or Ireland although there are varieties that have been made in both Japan and Canada, for instance. In Scotland, it’s most commonly referred to as Scotch whisky, whereas in Ireland it’s known as whiskey (notice the difference in spelling?). This difference in spelling goes back to differences in the Scottish and Gaelic languages.

What is the difference between whisky and bourbon? – From ingredients to ABV

Whisky ingredients vary depending on the style being made, the country where it originates, and a variety of other factors. However, in most cases the ingredients remain the same or similar. So, in those ingredients rely one of the answers to the question: ‘What is the difference between whisky and bourbon?’.

Whisky is manufactured using a tried and tested process. It uses fermented grain mash which can be barley, corn, rye, or wheat, and it is often aged in wooden barrels which help to give the whisky its distinct colour and flavour profile.

Bourbon, on the other hand, is distinct from other whiskeys in its ingredients, but also the way it is manufactured and aged. As per the American Bourbon Association, in order for a product to be sold or exported as Bourbon it must be made using a basic recipe of at least 51% corn – this helps to give bourbon its distinct and sweet flavour.

What is the difference between whisky and bourbon? One of them is the ingredients

As well as the ingredients, bourbon also must conform to the following standards:

Bourbon must be produced in the US

Another answer for the question: ‘What is the difference between whisky and bourbon?’ relies on the production country, as explained on the paragraphs above. However, there’s a common misconception that bourbon has to be made in Kentucky. And, that’s not quite true. While it’s true that Kentucky accounts for around 90% of the world’s bourbon, by legal definition it only has to be produced in the US.

Most bourbon makers from Kentucky, however, would disagree with this statement, stating that Kentucky boasts the perfect climate and conditions for making the perfect bourbon.

Interested in getting to know more about Bourbon’s history? Check out this article: https://www.whiskyflavour.com/blog/bourbon-whiskey/

Must be aged in charred oak barrels

In order for bourbon to be sold and exported as bourbon, it also needs to be aged oak barrels that have been charred on the inside.

There are no set rules on how long bourbon should be aged for inside the barrel, but it’s common practice for most bourbons to age for a minimum of two years. Most experts agree that the longer the bourbon is left to age in the barrel, the mellower it is to drink.

For a bourbon to be sold as “straight bourbon whisky” it needs to have been aged inside a charred oak barrel for a minimum of two years.

Whiskies, on the other hand, can be aged in barrels that were once used to age other spirits, and they don’t need to be whisky barrels either – rum or port casks are incredibly popular when ageing non-bourbon whiskies.

Several charred oak barrels used for bourbon maturation

Bourbon Has to Hit Certain ABV Marks

When bourbon goes through the distillation process, it must be distilled at 160 proof (80% ABV) or less before it goes through barrelling and proofing.

Because of another strict manufacturing regulation, bourbon cannot be higher than 125 proof (62.5% ABV) when placed into the barrel to age. Bourbon must also be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% ABV).

Other kind of whiskies, on the other hand have different ABV standards for both the barrelling and distilling processes. By law, the minimum strength that scotch whisky can be bottled at is the same as bourbon: at 80 proof (40% ABV). However, there are no regulations on ABV for the distillation process.

Whisky vs Bourbon – the taste

When asking yourself the question “What is the difference between Whisky and Bourbon?”, one of the features you might think immediately is the flavour.

The reason they taste different is largely down to the different ingredients and processes used. A whisky made from distilled rye will taste completely different to one made from distilled corn and so on.

Bourbon is much sweeter than Scotch whisky and has a distinct flavour profile. It is commonly found to have notes of either vanilla, oak or caramel and it tastes smoky because of the ageing process in the charred barrels. These sweet and smoky flavours make bourbon a popular choice amongst many whisky drinkers, as well as mixologists.

It’s difficult to pinpoint just one flavour profile of Scotch whisky, and this is because there are no strict rules or regulations on how it should be made. They can range from fruity and sweet to spicy and salty, it all depends on the ingredients, distillation and barrelling process.

What is the difference between whisky and bourbon? The flavour is one of them.

Is Tennessee whiskey the same as bourbon?

The main difference between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon is their method of filtering. Tennessee whiskey is filtered through a process known as the Lincoln County Process whereby the whiskey is filtered through charcoal prior to being aged in charred oak barrells (in Tennessee) at no more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV).

Of course, this method of manufacturing is very similar to bourbon and does everything a bourbon does to be called a bourbon. In fact, the Lincoln County Process doesn’t disqualify a whiskey being called a bourbon. However, the general consensus is that the Lincoln County Process makes Tennessee whiskey different enough from bourbon that it shouldn’t be called bourbon.

The most famous Tennessee whiskey out there is Jack Daniel’s and it – alongside other Tennessee distillers – doesn’t refer to its product as bourbon, although it does taste similar.

Get to know the best Bourbon Brands under $50: https://www.whiskyflavour.com/blog/the-best-bourbons/

What is the difference between whisky and bourbon’s way of drinking?

There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy a whisky or bourbon. Well, despite in responsible quantities, of course. But to understand each flavour profile of it, many whisky connoseurs recommend trying both neat. Start off with a 25ml serving and sip to really enjoy the flavours.

If you find neat a little too strong for your taste, add in some water or ice cubes to make it easier on the palette.

Another great way to drink whisky is in a classic cocktail. Whisky forms the base of many classic cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac which show the versatility of whisky.

The sweet and smoky notes of bourbon make it a great drink to enjoy neat, but it really lends itself to complex cocktails such as the boulevardier and John Collins.

Check out 4 different ways to drink whisky!

Bowmore whisky tasting glass

Whisky vs bourbon – which one should I start with?

When you’re new to the world of whisky, it can be a minefield to choose something suitable that you’re going to enjoy. You want something easy on the palette, with enough oomph to make you want to explore other whiskeys and bourbons.

As both whisky and bourbon have different flavour profiles due to their manufacturing and ageing process, it’s difficult to say which one you should start with. But if you typically like something sweeter, bourbon is definitely for you.

The varied flavours associated with bourbon make it a drink that everyone can enjoy, whether in a cocktail, enjoyed with a mixer, or on the rocks, bourbon truly is a versatile beverage.

Scotch, on the other hand is more of a complex drink to enjoy – but it doesn’t have to be. Although there are many heavily peated expressions out there that might not be to everyone’s taste, there are also a whole host of light whiskies for you to enjoy too.

In conclusion

When asking the question ‘What is the difference between whisky and bourbon?’, know that they are a lot different, specially because ‘Whisky’ is such a broad kind of spirit. However, by getting to know bourbon a little better, one can understand the differences perfectly.

When comparing whisky and bourbon it’s difficult to say whether one is better than the other. It’s more a question of personal preference. There is often more subtelty in whisky, whereas bourbon is has a more powerful flavour profile.

These differences can be attributed to how they are both made but the main contributing factor is the barrels used for ageing. Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels, which make the flavours of bourbons relatively similar from brand to brand, whereas whisky can use a variety of different barrels which allows it to take on a variety of flavours.

We recommend trying a few bourbons and whiskeys first before completely discounting one.

Here at Whisky Flavour you can try our subscription boxes without needing to invest in full bottles. It offers the perfect way to experiment with different whiskies and bourbons at an affordable price. Each tasting box includes at least four original branded minature bottles of whisky which is perfect if you’re just starting out.

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