This question seems to pop up one too many times, making it clear that a number of people do not know the difference, and certain others do not know there’s even a difference between these two drinks. It’s funny to think that their similarities are just as many as their differences.
What is a bourbon? What is a whiskey? These definitions have to be made if we’re going to get to their differences; the itsy bitsy, yet hugely important characteristics that set these two apart from each other.
What is a whiskey?
Well, simply put, a whiskey is a spirit that has been distilled at less than 190 proof. This spirit is made from the fermented mash of grain and is stored in oak containers and afterwards, bottled at a 40% abv minimum. A whiskey can also be made anywhere in the world. It has no territorial restrictions.
What is a bourbon?
A bourbon on the other hand, is a kind of whiskey which is produced only in the USA. A bourbon cannot be called a bourbon if it is produced anywhere that is outside of the USA even if it’s produced with the same recipe. It originated from Kentucky, and is named after Bourbon County of the same. Unlike any normal whiskey, during the maturing of a bourbon, it can only be stored in new charred oak containers/barrels.
Asking the difference between a bourbon and a whiskey is much like asking the difference between apple cider vinegar, and vinegar; and this is because bourbon is a type of whiskey. So a bourbon is always a whiskey, but a whiskey is not always a bourbon. A confusing statement, but easy to understand when you think about it. However, there are very specific laws of production that separate these two drinks, and we’re going to dig into the details, the nitty gritty of it all, until we get to the very bottom of the barrel.
Below are the major differences between a whiskey and a bourborn
|One||A whiskey can be made anywhere in the world as long it is made with the right ingredients and recipe. If a whiskey is made inside of the USA according to the specifications of the production of a bourbon, then it is a bourbon. Getting the picture?||Bourbon can only be made in the USA (and nowhere else) for it to qualify as a bourbon.|
|Two||Can be defined as a spirit that is distilled from grain.||A bourbon must have up to 51% corn in its grain mixture, and so its primary ingredient, is corn.|
|Three||Can be matured in re-used oak containers.||Must be aged in new, charred white-oak barrels. This brings the difference in taste because 40-70% of the flavor profile of these drinks come from the wood.|
|Four||Whiskey makers can add colors and flavors to their whiskey.||The only thing that can be added to bourbon is water, and usually to bring down the proof.|
|Five||Whiskey is spelled differently in different place. It’s spelled Whiskey with an ‘e’ in places like the USA and Ireland, and spelled Whisky without the ‘e’ in Scotland, Canada, and Japan.||Bourbon has only one known spelling.|
|Six||Must be distilled to a maximum of 190 proof (95% alcohol volume).||Must be distilled to a maximum of 160 proof (80% alcohol volume).|
|Seven||There are many different types of whiskeys and the fact that flavors can be added, provides lots of options for whiskey drinkers.||With bourbon the options are much less due to the fact that it can contain no added flavors, coloring or other spirits.|
|Eight||It’s general flavor profile contains oak, vanilla, and caramel notes.||Wheat, corn, barley, and rye.|
|Nine||Not as sweet as the bourbon.||Sweeter than other whiskeys because of the amount of corn present.|
|Ten||Has a lighter texture than the bourbon||Usually heavier in texture than other whiskeys.|
|Eleven||Certain characteristics and rules in its production make this drink easier to produce than a bourbon.||Is tougher to make than a whiskey. The specifications for ageing time along with the types of barrels used, and other details make it not as easy to process as other whiskeys.|
|Twelve||Does not have a particular time restriction for ageing.
|A bourbon must be aged for at least two years.|
|Thirteen||Has a golden brown color.||Is amber red in color.|
I hope these characteristics listed have assisted in defining the differences between Bourbon and Whiskey. A lot of their differences are territorial, but the production and bottling processes play a huge part as well. All that said, I am sure many will agree that these are both timeless and fantastic drinks that have transcended time quite beautifully.
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