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Battle of Bourbon: Is Kentucky or Tennessee Whiskey Better?

two glasses bourbon shot by a bottle

Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Lydia Martin

As a whiskey enthusiast, I’ve always been curious about the age-old debate: is Kentucky or Tennessee whiskey better?

These American whiskeys have distinct flavors and production methods, but which one truly reigns supreme?

Join me as I dive deeper into this ongoing battle of the bourbons and try to uncover the answer to this age-old question.


What is the ongoing debate about Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey?

The ongoing debate about Tennessee whiskey vs Kentucky whiskey centers around which type of American whiskey is better.

Kentucky whiskey, specifically called bourbon, is known for its bold and robust flavor profile, while Tennessee whiskey is known for its smooth and mellow taste with a slightly sweet finish. [1]

Both whiskey types have unique production processes and requirements, contributing to their distinct flavors.

The debate often comes down to personal preference, with some whiskey enthusiasts preferring the strong and complex taste of Kentucky bourbon while others favor the smoothness of Tennessee whiskey.

The Tennessee whiskey and bourbon debate is a matter of taste and subjective opinion.

pretty lady enjoying a glass of whiskey

Kentucky Whiskey

What are the production processes and requirements for Kentucky whiskey?

Kentucky whiskey is a type of American whiskey that is legally required to be produced in the state of Kentucky.

The production process involves several key steps, including:

  • Mash Bill: At least 51% of the mash bill must be corn, with the remaining portion consisting of other grains such as rye, wheat, or barley.
  • Fermentation: The mash is fermented with yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol.
  • Distillation: The fermented mash is then distilled to separate the alcohol from the solids and water.
  • Aging: The resulting clear spirit is then aged in new, seared oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The aging process gives the whiskey its color, flavor, and complexity.
  • Blending: After aging, the whiskey is blended to ensure consistency of flavor and quality across different batches.
  • Bottling: The final product is then bottled at no less than 40% ABV.

What are some popular Kentucky bourbon brands?

There are many popular Kentucky bourbon whiskey brands, each with its own unique flavor profile and history.

Some of the most well-known and beloved Kentucky bourbon brands include:

  • Maker’s Mark: Known for its distinctive red wax seal, Maker’s Mark is a wheated bourbon with a smooth and mellow taste.
  • Woodford Reserve: A small-batch bourbon with a complex flavor profile featuring chocolate, cinnamon, and caramel notes.
  • Jim Beam: One of the most popular bourbon brands in the world, Jim Beam is known for its bold and spicy flavor.
  • Wild Turkey: With a high rye content, Wild Turkey has a bold and robust flavor profile featuring notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice.
  • Buffalo Trace: A classic Kentucky bourbon with a smooth and sweet taste featuring toffee, honey, and vanilla notes.

What are the tasting notes and flavors of Kentucky whiskey?

Kentucky whiskey has a bold and robust flavor profile with caramel, vanilla, and oak notes.

The aging process and the use of new charred oak barrels give the whiskey its distinct color and flavor, while the high percentage of corn in the mash bill contributes to its sweetness.

Kentucky whiskey is a popular choice for drinking neat or on the rocks and classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep.

Tennessee Whiskey

What are the production processes and requirements for Tennessee whiskey?

Tennessee whiskey is a kind of American whiskey that is legally required to be produced in the state of Tennessee using a specific production process.

The defining features of Tennessee whiskey include the following:

  • Must be made in Tennessee: To be legally defined as Tennessee whiskey, it must be produced within the state of Tennessee.
  • Mash Bill: The mash bill for Tennessee whiskey must contain at least 51% corn, with the remaining grains typically rye and barley.
  • Fermentation: The mash is cooked and fermented using a unique strain of yeast, which is known for imparting a specific flavor profile to Tennessee whiskey.
  • Distillation: The resulting liquid is then distilled in specialized Tennessee distillers to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Charcoal Filtering: The whiskey is then filtered through a surface of sugar maple charcoal before being aged in new, charred oak barrels. This step is known as the Lincoln County Process and is a key requirement for Tennessee whiskey. [2]
  • Aging: The whiskey must be aged in new, seared oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
  • Alcohol Content: The resulting whiskey must be bottled at no less than 40% ABV.

What are some popular Tennessee whiskey brands?

Tennessee whiskey is a kind of American whiskey produced in Tennessee using a unique filtration process known as the “Lincoln County Process.” Some popular Tennessee whiskey brands include:

  • Jack Daniels: Perhaps the most well-known Tennessee whiskey brand, Jack Daniel’s, is produced in Lynchburg and is known for its smooth, mellow flavor.
  • George Dickel: Produced in Tullahoma, George Dickel is another famous Tennessee whiskey brand offering various expressions, including a sour mash and rye.
  • Pritchard’s: Made in Kelso, Pritchard’s is a small-batch Tennessee whiskey brand that uses a unique production process involving direct-fire copper pot stills.
  • Old Dominick: Based in Memphis, Old Dominick offers a range of whiskeys, including a Tennessee straight bourbon and a high rye whiskey.
  • Nelson’s Green Brier: This Nashville-based distillery produces a range of Tennessee whiskeys, including a small batch of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey finished in stout barrels.

What are the tasting notes and flavors of Tennessee whiskey?

Tennessee whiskey has a diverse flavor outline that separates it from other types of whiskey.

It is characterized by its smoky charcoal flavor, which comes from the process of filtering the whiskey through charcoal before aging – the Lincoln County Process.

For an enthusiast like us who loves to drink Tennessee whiskey, we noticed that it typically has a rather sweeter taste than other types of whiskey due to its high corn content in the mash bill, contributing to its overall smoothness.

The aging process in new, seared oak barrels also gives the whiskey a rich, woody flavor, along with hints of vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch.

two glass filled with ice and a bottle of whiskey by the beach



Which is better: Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey?

There is no clear answer to whether Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey is better, as it ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Both types of whiskey have their own unique characteristics and production processes that contribute to their distinct flavors and aromas.

Some people may prefer the bold and robust flavor profile of Kentucky bourbon, while others may prefer the smoother and sweeter taste of Tennessee whiskey.

The best way to determine which one you want is to try both and see which one you enjoy more.



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