Bourbon vs. Whiskey: What’s the Real Difference?

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Bourbon vs. Whiskey: What’s the Real Difference?

bourbon vs whiskey

You stroll into the neighbourhood bar after a long day. The bartender greets you with a warm smile and a simple question: “Bourbon or whiskey?”

What will you choose?

Will it be whiskey or bourbon?

What sets them apart?

If you’re not a big brown liquor drinker. You will find it tricky to tell bourbon apart from whiskey. They both have the same brown colour. Which makes it hard to spot the difference at first glance.

As you consider your choice. Let Premium Selections lead you through the flavours of bourbon, whiskey, Scotch, and rye. We’ll explore bourbon vs whiskey sip by sip, in a language as smooth as a well-aged liquor.

What’s in Your Glass: Whiskey or Bourbon?

So, you are wondering, what’s the deal with bourbon and whiskey? They both look pretty similar, right?

Well, let’s clear up the ‘bourbon versus whiskey’ confusion once and for all.

What Is Bourbon?

Now, let’s talk bourbon.

Bourbon is whiskey, but whiskey is not bourbon. Got it?


It’s not just any whiskey; bourbon is a type of whiskey. It’s made mainly from corn and aged in charred oak barrels. This aging process gives bourbon its distinct flavour and smoothness. You will taste a sweet and slightly smoky taste with hints of caramel and vanilla.

It’s charming and easy to sip.

Legend has it that its name pays homage to Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it was first brewed. While Kentucky is bourbon’s heartland. It can legally be produced elsewhere. As long as it meets the 51% corn criteria.

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Colonel EH Taylor Jr Small Batch Bourbon

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This rich and lovely bourbon is a true gem. Despite its robust 50% ABV, it’s surprisingly accessible and easy to enjoy. Sip it slowly to savour the well-crafted flavours that make this whiskey a standout choice.

Elijah Craig Bourbon ─ 12-Year-Old

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With its 12 years of aging, this bourbon offers a depth of flavour that’s hard to resist. Each sip reveals layers of complexity, making it a favourite among bourbon lovers.

Bookers Bourbon Granny Batch

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Get ready for a bold and intense bourbon experience with Bookers Bourbon Granny Batch. At 124.6 proof, this whiskey packs a punch with its robust flavours and satisfying finish.

Michters Small Batch Original Sour Mash Bourbon

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Experience the unique character of Michters Small Batch Original Sour Mash Bourbon. Crafted with care, this bourbon offers a smooth and balanced taste that’s sure to delight your palate.

What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey or whisky in some parts of the world, is produced from fermented mashed grains. Whiskey is a broad category of distilled spirits, and bourbon is just one variety of it.

In the United States and Ireland, it’s spelled whiskey. While elsewhere, it’s whisky. The drink’s spelling may vary. But its essence remains consistent.

  • A hearty blend of grains,
  • Aged in wooden barrels,
  • With an alcohol content of at least 40%.

Unlike bourbon, which is mainly corn-based. Whiskey can be made from various grains like

  • Barley,
  • Rye, or

Each type of whiskey has its unique flavour profile. Ranging from spicy to fruity to smoky. Different types of whiskey bring something unique to the taste buds.

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Jack Daniel’s Brussels Belgium Special Limited Edition Tennessee Whiskey

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Experience the richness of this special limited edition Tennessee Whiskey, honoured with a gold medal in Brussels, Belgium, in 1954. Savour every sip of this exceptional whiskey, crafted with care by Jack Daniel’s.

Jack Daniel’s Amsterdam the Netherlands Limited Edition Tennessee Whiskey

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Transport yourself to the Netherlands with this exclusive limited edition Tennessee Whiskey, awarded a gold medal in Amsterdam in 1981. With its smooth taste and exceptional quality, this whiskey is a true delight for the senses.

Bushmills Single Malt Irish Whiskey ─ Aged 21 Years

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Treat yourself to the luxurious flavours of Bushmills Single Malt Irish Whiskey. Aged to perfection for 21 years, this whiskey offers a sophisticated taste. With its complex flavours and velvety smoothness, it’s a must-try for any whiskey connoisseur.

Midleton 2023 Irish Whiskey ─ Very Rare

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Elevate your whiskey experience with Midleton Very Rare 2023 Irish Whiskey. Crafted with expertise and precision. This whiskey offers a blend of flavours that’s truly delicious. Sip and savour the complexity of this exceptional whiskey from Ireland.

Bourbon vs. Whiskey: What Sets Them Apart?

Bourbon is usually called ” bourbon whiskey“. Because bourbon falls under the whiskey umbrella. Just like how Champagne is a fancy type of wine.

As every bourbon is whiskey, but not every whiskey is bourbon. So yes, it’s basically comparing whisky vs whiskey.

There are 3 major differences between bourbon and whiskey,

  1. Distillation Process
  2. Flavour Profile
  3. Geographic Differences

Every Bourbon Is Whiskey, But Not Every Whiskey Is Bourbon

1. Distillation Process

A. Bourbon

Must Be Made From At Least 51% Corn

Bourbon must have at least 51% corn in its recipe.

Corn gives bourbon its sweet flavour. Other grains like barley and rye can also be used. But corn must be the majority. This means that most of the grains used to make bourbon are corn.

Corn adds a natural sweetness to bourbon. Sometimes, barley and rye are added to give bourbon different flavours. But they can’t be the main ingredients.

So, bourbon makers always make sure there’s plenty of corn in the mix.

Aged In New Charred Oak Barrels

Bourbon is aged in new oak barrels that are burnt inside.

This process adds flavour and colour to the bourbon. When the barrels are burnt. They release special flavours that mix with the bourbon. This makes it taste even better.

The longer the bourbon stays in the barrel. The more time it has to soak up these flavours. As it ages, it gets darker and richer in taste. So, bourbon makers often let it sit for several years to develop that perfect flavour.

It’s like aging a fine wine or cheese – the longer it ages, the better it gets.

Distilled To No Less Than 40% ABV

During distillation, bourbon is distilled to no less than 40% ABV. Which means it’s not too strong.

This rule ensures that bourbon has a smooth taste. And doesn’t burn when you drink it. When bourbon is too strong. It can feel like you’re drinking FIRE.

But because bourbon is distilled to 40% ABV. It’s just right for sipping or mixing in cocktails. This means you can enjoy it without feeling like your mouth is on fire. So, whether you like it straight up or in a fancy cocktail. Bourbon’s strength is just perfect.

B. Whiskey

Made From A Variety Of Grains

So, what is whiskey made from? Whiskey can be made from various grains.

While bourbon needs to have at least 51% corn. Whiskey can be made from barley, rye, wheat, or corn. This variety of grains gives whiskey its unique taste. So, when whiskey makers mix up their ingredients. They have more options to play with.

Each grain brings its special flavour to the mix, creating a tasty blend. Whether it’s

  • the nuttiness of barley,
  • the spiciness of rye, or
  • the sweetness of corn.

These grains add depth and character to the whiskey. Notice and enjoy the blend of delicious flavours.

Aged In A Variety Of Barrels

Unlike bourbon, whiskey can be aged in different types of barrels. Which affects its taste.

Whiskey makers might use barrels that previously held bourbon, wine, or even rum. Each type of barrel adds its flavours to the whiskey. Making it more complex and interesting.

Distilled to at least 40% ABV

Whiskey is distilled to at least 40% ABV and preferably above.

Making it slightly stronger than bourbon. This means that whiskey has a bit more alcohol content than bourbon. But it’s still smooth and enjoyable to drink.

2. Flavour Profile

A. Bourbon

Sweet & Full-Bodied

Bourbon has a sweet taste that fills your mouth.

It’s like sipping on a delicious dessert. The flavour is rich and satisfying. Hence, a favourite for many people.

Notes: Caramel, Vanilla, Oak

When you take a sip of bourbon. You will notice hints of caramel, vanilla, and oak.

These flavours come from the ingredients used to make bourbon and the barrels it’s aged in. They add depth and complexity to the taste. Making bourbon even more enjoyable.

Smooth Finish

After you swallow a sip of bourbon. It leaves a smooth feeling in your mouth.

It’s not harsh or bitter like some other drinks. Instead, it goes down easy. Leaving you wanting more. That’s why bourbon is perfect for sipping slowly and enjoying every drop.

B. Whiskey

Vary Widely Depending On The Grains Used

The taste of whiskey can change a lot depending on the grains used to make it.

Whether it’s barley, rye, wheat, or corn. Each grain brings its unique flavour to the whiskey. So, every sip of whiskey can be a new adventure in taste.

Notes: Smoky, Fruity, Spicy

When you take a sip of whiskey. You will notice different flavours like smoke, fruit, or spice.

These flavours come from how the whiskey is made and aged. Some whiskies taste like a campfire. While others leave a fruity or spicy taste.

It all depends on the ingredients and techniques used by the whiskey maker.

Can Be Bold Or Subtle In Flavour

Some whiskies are big and bold. While others are smooth and easy-drinking.

Whiskey can have a bold, strong flavour that hits you right away. Or else, it can have a more subtle taste that lingers on your tongue. So, whether you like your whiskey to pack a punch or be more laid-back. There’s something out there for everyone.

Geographic Differences:

A. Bourbon

Must Be Made in the United States

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that can only be made in the United States.

This rule ensures that bourbon maintains its unique identity and flavour profile. Because the climate of a place has a major impact on the taste of the final product.

Kentucky Is Known As ‘The Heart’ Of Bourbon Country

When people think of bourbon, they often think of Kentucky.

This state has a long history of making bourbon. And is home to many famous bourbon distilleries. Kentucky’s climate and limestone-rich water are perfect for making bourbon.

Tennessee & Texas Also Produce Bourbon

While Kentucky is famous for bourbon.

Other states like Tennessee and Texas also make their delicious versions. Each state brings its own twist to bourbon-making. Adding diversity to the world of whiskey.

So, no matter where you are in the United States. You can find a tasty bourbon nearby.

B. Whiskey

Produced worldwide ─ Ireland, Scotland, Canada

Whiskey is made all over the world, not just in the United States.

Countries like Ireland, Scotland, and Canada are famous for their own unique styles of whiskey. Each country brings its flavour and flair to the world of whiskey-making.

Each Country Has Its Own Regulations & Traditions

Every country that makes whiskey has its own rules and customs for how it’s made.

These regulations make sure that whiskey maintains its quality and authenticity. From the ingredients used to the aging process. Each country has its traditions that make its whiskey special.

Different Climates & Terroirs Can Impact The Final Product

The environment where whiskey is made can have a big impact on its taste. Factors like

  • Temperature,
  • Humidity, and
  • Quality of the water used

All these factors can affect how whiskey turns out.

So, whiskey made in Ireland tastes different from whiskey made in Scotland or Canada. All because of the unique conditions of each place.

Final Note

In summary, bourbon and whiskey may seem similar. But they have some important differences. So, next time you’re eyeing up bourbon whiskey brands. Remember, bourbon is more than just whiskey. It’s a flavourful, carefully brewed spirit with a story as rich as its taste.

So, why not try both spirits and see which one you prefer?

Experiment with different brands, styles, and serving methods to discover your own taste preferences. Whether you enjoy bourbon neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, or if you prefer whiskey straight or mixed. The journey of exploration is part of the fun.

Cheers to discovering your new favourite drink!

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