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Bourbon vs Whiskey: What’s the Difference? (2024 Updated)

Bourbon vs Whiskey

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 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

Woodinville Bourbon

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


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

Bourbon Oak Barrels

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

Bandwagon Bourbon

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

Dewars Whisky

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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Whiskey Cocktail

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?


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. 

Frequently Asked Questions (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.  

How does bourbon differ from whiskey?

All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. Bourbon is a specific type of whiskey with distinct legal requirements for production. The key differences include:

Ingredients: Bourbon must be made from a mash bill that includes at least 51% corn.

Aging: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels.

Proof: It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into barrels at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.

No Additives: Bourbon must not contain any additives other than water to adjust proof.

Is Jack Daniel’s a whiskey or a bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s is technically a Tennessee whiskey, not a bourbon. While both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey share similarities, the distinction lies in the extra step Tennessee whiskey undergoes called the Lincoln County Process.

This process involves filtering the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal before aging, imparting a unique flavor profile to Tennessee whiskey, including Jack Daniel’s.

What’s the difference between bourbon, whiskey, and rye?

The terms bourbon, whiskey, and rye refer to different types of distilled spirits:

Bourbon: A type of whiskey with specific production requirements, including a mash bill containing at least 51% corn, aging in new charred oak barrels, and meeting certain proof regulations.

Whiskey: A broad category of distilled spirits that includes various types, such as bourbon, rye, Scotch, and Irish whiskey. Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.

Rye: Rye whiskey, a subset of whiskey, must have a mash bill containing at least 51% rye grain. It can have a spicier and fruitier flavor profile compared to bourbon.

Is bourbon as strong as whiskey?

The strength of bourbon and other whiskeys is measured in alcohol by volume (ABV). Bourbon and whiskey can have varying ABV levels, typically ranging from 40% to 60% ABV. Therefore, the strength of bourbon is comparable to other types of whiskey, and it depends on the specific brand and expression.

Is Jim Beam a bourbon?

Yes, Jim Beam is a bourbon. It is one of the well-known and widely consumed bourbon brands. Produced in Kentucky, Jim Beam follows the legal requirements for bourbon production, including using a mash bill with at least 51% corn and aging in new charred oak barrels.

Why is Jack Daniel’s not bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s is not classified as bourbon due to its unique production process known as the Lincoln County Process. While bourbon and Tennessee whiskey share similarities in terms of ingredients and aging, Tennessee whiskey, including Jack Daniel’s, undergoes an additional step of charcoal filtering before aging.

This filtration process imparts distinct characteristics to the whiskey and sets it apart from traditional bourbons.

Which is better, scotch or bourbon?

The preference between scotch and bourbon is subjective and depends on individual taste preferences. Both are distinct types of whiskey with unique characteristics. Scotch whisky is typically known for its diverse flavor profiles, influenced by regions like Islay,

Speyside, and Highland, offering peaty, smoky, or fruity notes. On the other hand, bourbon, a type of American whiskey, often exhibits sweeter and fuller flavors, with a rich and robust profile.

The choice between scotch and bourbon ultimately comes down to personal taste and the specific qualities one enjoys in a whiskey.

Is Johnnie Walker a bourbon?

No, Johnnie Walker is not a bourbon. Johnnie Walker is a brand of blended Scotch whisky, originating from Scotland. Bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey, and Johnnie Walker, being a Scotch whisky, follows different production processes and regulations.

Scotch whisky, including Johnnie Walker, is known for its distinctive regional characteristics and can include blends of malt and grain whiskies from various distilleries.

What kind of whiskey is Johnnie Walker?

Johnnie Walker is a blended Scotch whisky. It is known for its diverse range of expressions, each representing a specific style and flavor profile.

The brand offers a variety of blends, including the popular Johnnie Walker Red Label, Black Label, and Blue Label, each with its own unique characteristics and aging processes.

What determines if a whiskey is a bourbon?

For a whiskey to be classified as bourbon, it must adhere to specific legal requirements established by the U.S. Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. Key criteria include:

Ingredients: The mash bill must contain at least 51% corn.

Aging: It must be aged in new charred oak barrels.

Distillation: It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into barrels at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.

No Additives: Bourbon must not contain any additives other than water to adjust proof.

Meeting these criteria distinguishes a whiskey as bourbon within the realm of American whiskey production.

Why does bourbon taste better than whiskey?

The statement that bourbon tastes better than whiskey is subjective and dependent on individual preferences. Bourbon is a type of whiskey, so the comparison may be a misunderstanding. Preferences for flavor profiles vary widely, and what one person finds appealing, another may not.

The key is to explore different types of whiskey, including bourbon, scotch, rye, and others, to discover the flavors and characteristics that align with one’s personal taste.

Why is bourbon considered whiskey?

Bourbon is considered whiskey because it falls within the broader category of distilled spirits known as whiskey or whisky.

The term “whiskey” is a general term that encompasses various styles and types of distilled alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain mash.

Bourbon is a specific subtype of whiskey, and its classification as such is based on its adherence to distinct production standards and regulations outlined by law. These regulations include requirements related to ingredients, aging, and proof, distinguishing bourbon from other types of whiskey.

FInal Verdict: Bourbon Vs Whiskey

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. 


  1. How To Ferment Grains
  2. What Is Distillation?
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