Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin
Choosing whiskeys in a bar menu or a liquor store can be overwhelming because of its vast array of choices. And to some, the difference between Irish Whiskey vs Bourbon can hardly be seen.
To catch up, our team spent 37.5 hours researching to give you a comprehensive comparison between the two classic spirits.
Bourbon or Irish Whiskey: Which is Better?
Whiskeys are widely consumed by people all around the globe. The Irish Whiskey comes from yeast-fermented corn, wheat, and malted barley, which is distilled thrice to have a light yet smooth finish spirit.
On the other hand, Bourbon is made from corn then aged in new charred oak barrels. It then produces a sweet whiskey with vanilla, caramel, oak, and spice notes.
While there can be similarities between these spirits, their crucial difference can set the record straight for being the best festive spirit.
Separated by geography, grains, and the distillation process, they both give a fair share of dominance for being a better whiskey.
What Is Irish Whiskey?
Irish Whiskey is produced from a yeast-fermented mash of malted corn, wheat, and barley. It has a distinct distillation and aging process and must be produced in Ireland to meet its legal requirement.
Fortunately, technological innovations allowed all the distilleries to produce Whiskey cheaper and more effectively than the traditional Irish method. It is a popular grain whiskey worldwide, and some of its brands are Jameson, Bushmills, and Tullamore Dew.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of Whiskey that requires at least 51% corn. Like Irish national spirit, Bourbon has its geographical boundary and must be produced in Kentucky or inside the United States. There’s Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, and Jim Beam, to name a few popular brands.
The American Whiskey has a sweet, caramel, vanilla, and oaky flavor, making it a popular cocktail mix. The market for American spirit grew faster, so to keep within the industry phase, distillers decided to increase craftsmanship. The small-batch bourbons leave more room for flavor options which greatly help the industry.
Let’s Take a Closer Look at the Differences
Country of Origin
Irish Whiskey originated in Ireland, while Bourbon is produced anywhere inside the United States. Irish must be produced, distilled, and aged in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. However, if you want to visit Whiskey distilleries in Ireland, they don’t sell the Kentucky Bourbon Trail short.
On the other hand, Bourbon, a national liquor of the Americans, has to be made in the USA. No whiskey produced outside the States can be labeled and sold as Bourbon. Most of the best distilleries can be located in Kentucky and its neighboring region in the South.
The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980, which repealed the Act of 1950, states that the Whiskey must be distilled and matured in Ireland for not less than three years . Unlike Bourbon, Irish Whiskey can be matured in recycled barrels.
On the other hand, Bourbon was designated as a distinctive product by the H. Con Resolution 57 . To be called Bourbon legally, the Whiskey must be produced in the United States only and should be at least 51 percent corn. In addition, Bourbon Whiskey must be aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Irish Whiskey’s base product is a yeast-fermented mash of malted barley, wheat, or corn, while Bourbon’s mash bill contains at least 51% corn. The base product of the best Irish Whiskeys is dried in closed ovens before being distilled thrice.
On the other hand, the base product of the occasional Bourbon Whiskey must not get above 79% to avoid being a corn whiskey. Many Irish Whiskeys use 70% corn with a mix of rye or malted and unmalted barley to reduce the bottling proof. Learn how to make corn whiskey here.
The age terms for both whiskeys can be a quality marker with a simple rule of thumb that the older, the better. Irish Whiskey’s age terms can be seen on the label, where producers can include the maturation period, age of the Whiskey, or the year it was bottled.
Bourbon’s age terms are stamped on the bottle’s label where you can see how old it matured in the barrel. Since almost all bourbons are created by blending whiskeys from several barrels, the distillery is legally bound not to include a single drop of any younger than that age stamped.
Smell & Taste
Irish Whiskeys have a distinct taste and scent that is light and fruity with evident cereal grain notes, while Bourbons usually have strong notes of oak, vanilla, and caramel. With Irish Whiskey’s aging process, the oakiness and caramel undertones of the spirit are well enjoyed by many.
On the other hand, since Bourbons are made from enormous wheat, these grain whiskeys tend to be mellow and softer. With this, the taste and the scent of the American drink has a mix of sweet, caramel, vanilla, and oaky flavor profile.
Since Irish Whiskey is one of the fastest-growing whisky industries, it has four classifications that people everywhere can enjoy. The four classifications include Irish Blend, Single Grain, Single Malt (Single Distillery), and Single Pot Still Irish.
On the contrary, Bourbon Whiskeys has five classifications that are popular not just in America but worldwide. The five classifications consist of Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Kentucky Bourbon, Traditional Bourbon, High-Rye Bourbon, and Wheated Bourbons.
The exotic grains from growing numbers of non-traditional Bourbons like quinoa, blended malt rye, oats, and other grains are not associated with Bourbon production nor classified as one.
Irish Whiskeys are distilled thrice, while Bourbons are mostly distilled twice, but some brands do it thrice. The triple distillation process of the Irish produces a smooth, light, and cleaner texture while avoiding the smokey flavor peatiness of the spirit.
While other Bourbons are triple distilled, most are distilled twice between 65% – 80% with a traditional alembic. Some modern Bourbons and rye whiskey initially use column still then distill Whiskey in a virtual pot still. It will then produce a transparent spirit that will be matured in oak barrels.
Also Read: Most Expensive Irish Whiskey Varieties
Both spirits use charred oak barrels when maturing liquors; however, unlike Irish Whiskey, Bourbons only use new charred oak barrels.
However, the Bourbon barrels can be recycled and be used for Sherry, Rye Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, Scotch Whiskey, and some American Whiskeys.
Another difference between these two spirits is their maturity; wherein Irish Whiskies must aged a minimum of three years in Whiskey barrels. On the contrary, bourbons can be aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of two years. Find out if bourbon is gluten-free here.
Cocktail & Mixes
Drinking whisky straight can be enjoyed as you acquire its taste; however, drinking it as a cocktail or a mixed drink will be more enjoyable. There are many cocktail recipes and mixes for a good Irish Whiskey like Bailey’s Irish Cream, Irish Car Bomb, and Irish Coffee with brown sugar that you can try.
On the other hand, if you go to a Kentucky Derby, getting a mint julep can be a shame because the Bourbon is best to drink as a cocktail. The old-fashioned Manhattan and Classic Whiskey Sour are a few of the famous cocktail drinks you can try.
Is Irish Whiskey sweeter than Bourbon?
No, Irish Whiskey is not sweeter than Bourbon. Compared with Irish and Scotch Whiskey, Bourbon is sweeter because of its vanilla, oak, caramel, and spice undertones. In addition, the corn dominates the mix of grains which helps the Bourbon sweeter compared to other American Whiskey.
Is Jameson Irish Whiskey a Bourbon?
No, Jameson Irish Whiskey is not a Bourbon. The Whiskey is produced, distilled, and matured in Ireland. However, the Jameson Black Barrel by Jameson can be a Bourbon alternative because it uses Bourbon Barrels when maturing the Whiskey. Check the difference between Jameson and Proper 12 here.
Is Irish Whiskey easier to drink than Bourbon?
Yes, Irish Whiskey is easier to drink than Bourbon because it has been distilled thrice. The distillation process of this Whiskey gives a smooth texture and produces a lighter and cleaner drink that can be enjoyed drinking straight or with mixes.
Does Irish whiskey taste like Scotch or Bourbon?
Yes. Most Irish Whiskeys taste like Scotch mainly because they both use wooden casks. Since 70% of its end flavor comes from charred barrels, there can be similarities to its taste. In addition, they can both use malted barley and ex-Bourbon or Sherry casks that can bring out their fruity and spicy notes.
Whiskeys come in different flavors that are well enjoyed by whiskey drinkers in different parts of the world. While the main difference between Irish Whiskey vs Bourbon is their country of origin and aging process, both Whiskey can be your awesome choice. Both whiskeys are sweet, smooth, clean, and delightful to drink.
By knowing the difference between the two whiskeys, you may feel more confident ordering your choice of Whiskey. If you ever live in the States, getting a fine Bourbon would be more enjoyable. Also, searching for an excellent Irish Whiskey in Ireland would now be easier.