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Bourbon vs Whiskey: What’s the Difference? (2022 Updated)

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Last Updated on June 19, 2022 by Lydia Martin

All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. You need to follow several regulations before you can make bourbon. 

Let’s find out more about their difference and determine which is better in this bourbon vs whiskey review. 

Whiskey & Bourbon Compared

Whiskey & Bourbon Compared

Whiskeys are distilled spirits originating from grains, corn, barley, rye, or wheat. From these grains, various whiskeys are made. We have Scotch, rye whiskey, and American whiskey. There is also Tennessee whiskey, Irish whiskey, Japanese, Canadian, Blended, and bourbon whiskey. 

Bourbon whiskey, as mentioned, is a type of whiskey commonly made in Kentucky. However, the difference between bourbon and regular whiskey lies mostly in the production process. Also, bourbon has that distinctive sweet flavor along with a somewhat raw taste attributed to aging.

Key Differences

Key Differences

Origin

According to tales, whiskies began over a thousand years ago in countries Scotland, Ireland, and mainland Europe. The first whiskey was barley beer distilled and turned into whiskey. 

Bourbon’s story began in 1789 when Elijah Craig created it. It started as corn whiskey aged in new charred oak barrels. This spirit is considered an all-American spirit, distilled only in the lands of America but not particularly in Kentucky.

Production Process

Production Process

The production process between bourbon and whiskey is almost the same. It begins with the mash bill, processed for fermentation. After fermentation, the liquid is distilled, either in a column still or traditional pot stills. It will then be aged and then bottled. 

The difference is with the fermented grain used. There is a specific equation followed. It also needs to reach a specific alcohol label before it can proceed for maturation and production in Kentucky or any part of the US.  

Mash Bill

The production of bourbon and whiskey begins with the mash bill. These are commonly from corn, rye, barley, or wheat. The difference is the equation of the grains used. Whiskey can be single or blended grains mixed with yeasts and water.

To be called bourbon, it must contain at least 51 percent corn mash. The rest can be any grains. The remainder would be the flavor grains, creating a more complex taste for this spirit. 

Labeling Requirement

Labeling Requirement

Labeling alcoholic products follow particular requirements in the book. The following information must be stated on the product’s label, regardless of whiskey or bourbon. 

Brand or trade name of the product.

  • Class and type of the product
  • ABV
  • Net contents measured in metric units
  • Name and address of manufacturer or importer
  • Country of origin of the product, including manufacturer and bottler
  • Commodity statement
  • Standard government health warning

Maturation Process

The distilled spirit extracted from the fermented grains (1) is aged differently. Non-bourbon whiskeys are either stored in barrels previously used in aging bourbons. Others use ex-sherry or rum casks that help with the flavor and caramel coloring. 

On the other hand, bourbon whiskey is aged in new oak charred barrels. It is the same with rye whiskey. Straight bourbon whiskey has a woody and charred flavors imparted by new charred oak barrels. 

Alcohol Proof

Alcohol Proof

Bourbon and whiskey are one of the spirits that have high alcohol contents. Other whiskey reaches 140 proof or 70% ABV when undiluted. These are barrel-strength whiskeys. The level of alcohol is already acquired before the aging process.

Bourbon is whiskey with a specific ABV level. It must not exceed 160 proof during distillation (2). It should also be at least 80 proof when bottled. 

Taste & Flavor

The flavor would depend on what type of whiskey it is. However, the general taste would be woody and oaky, influenced by the oak barrels where they stored it. It also has notes of fruits and spices along with caramel and vanilla. Some other whiskies have that harsh burn, but others are smooth. 

Bourbon whiskies are generally smooth and sweet with strong oak, vanilla, and caramel notes. Its mellow flavor makes bourbon pleasant to drink. 

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Cocktails

Cocktails

Whiskies are generally great with cocktails. Regardless of the type, it does not contain an overwhelming flavor that overpowers other components of the drink. These spirits are normally sweet and tasty, which complements other flavors coming from the other ingredients.

Straight bourbon whiskey is also a good base for cocktails. The strong vanilla taste is perfect for a glass of Manhattan or Mint Julep. Other spirits leave a weird aftertaste that is not present with bourbon. But can you substitute whiskey for bourbon?

Type

Whiskey is a type of spirit that is aged in wooden barrels. The type of grain and barrels determines the varieties of the whiskies. Some use a single type of grain, while others are blended. 

Bourbon is whiskey made of 51% corn. Manufacturers blend it with malted barley or any other type of grain to add flavor. What makes bourbon distinct is its aging process. Aged in new charred oak barrels, a more pronounced oak taste is acquired. 

Price Point

Price Point

A bottle of 750 ml Irish whiskey is roughly $22. A standard blended Scotch whiskey is around  $30 per 750  ml, while premium bottles are sold for roughly $45. Standard  American whiskies are sold for roughly $33. Other whiskeys that are under the premium category are priced higher. 

Bourbon bottles have different prices. Budget bourbon bottles are roughly $13. Standard bourbon brands are sold at around $35. Premium bourbon bottles are roughly $99, and it goes higher. 

FAQs 

Is bourbon easier to drink than whiskey?

Yes. bourbon may be easier to drink than whiskey because of its sweet and savory taste. Kentucky bourbon is naturally sweet and savory with a strong scent of vanillas, making it very pleasant to swallow.

Which is better for beginners, bourbon or whiskey?

Bourbon would be better for beginners instead of whiskey because of its savory taste. In general, whiskeys are an acquired taste, and this includes bourbon. But it can be easier to get used to the taste if it is mixed in cocktails or mixed with lemon juice. 

Which is healthier, bourbon or whiskey?

It depends. Bourbon is not healthier than whiskey because other whiskeys contain lesser calories. Irish whiskey only has 70 cal, while rye whiskey only contains 64 cal. On the other hand, Scotch whiskey has the same calories as bourbon, which is at around 100 for a 1.5-ounce shot.  

Key Takeaways

The comparison between bourbon vs whiskey is tricky, considering that bourbon is whiskey. However, there is a distinctive difference between bourbon vs whiskey. When making bourbon, one should follow specific regulations, which automatically sets it apart.

This aged Kentucky spirit is not appreciated as much as the other variants, but its uniqueness is something that whiskey drinkers should discover. After all, not all whiskey is bourbon. We find its savory taste more pleasant than any other whiskies, but this is just us. We recommend you try a taste of different whiskey varieties. 

References:

  1. https://oureverydaylife.com/how-to-ferment-grains-12561948.html
  2. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-distillation-601964
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