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The Sugar Showdown: Which is Sweeter – Bourbon or Whiskey?

two different glass shots of bourbon and whiskey

Last Updated on February 2, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Have you ever found yourself wondering which one is sweeter, bourbon or whiskey? The answer to this question has puzzled many and has been the subject of countless debates.

But fear not, my friends, as I’m about to reveal the sweetest secret of the spirits world. And let me warn you, the answer might not be as straightforward as you think.

So, are you ready to have your taste buds tantalized and your mind blown? Then join me on this journey to uncover the battle of bourbon vs whiskey – which one reigns supreme in the world of sweetness?

Introduction

Which is sweeter, bourbon or whiskey?

Bourbon and whiskey are both types of spirits made from fermented grains and matured in barrels, but whether one is sweeter than the other depends on a variety of factors.

Generally, bourbon is considered to be slightly sweeter than other whiskeys due to the high proportion of corn used in its mash bill.

However, this can vary depending on the other grains used, the aging process, and individual taste preferences.

Be reminded that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. So, think twice if you’re planning to substitute bourbon with whiskey.

2 glasses of whiskey on the rocks at the table beside the bottle

The Distillation Process

Does the distillation process affect sweetness?

The distillation process can have an effect on the sweetness of a spirit, including bourbon and whiskey.

During distillation, the fermented liquid or “wash” is heated to vaporize the alcohol, which is then collected and condensed into liquid form.

The process of distillation can concentrate or remove certain flavors, including sweetness. 

A longer distillation process can result in a cleaner, less sweet flavor, while a shorter distillation process can result in a sweeter flavor. 

The Ingredients

How do the ingredients affect sweetness?

The ingredients used to make bourbon and whiskey can affect their sweetness in different ways.

The main ingredient in bourbon and a key ingredient in whiskey is the grain used in the mash bill.

Corn is the primary grain used in bourbon, and it is a naturally sweet grain, which gives bourbon its characteristic sweetness.

Other kernels, such as rye or wheat, can add spicy or smooth flavors to the whiskey, but they do not contribute as much sweetness as corn.

In whiskey, the sweetness can also be affected by the type of barley used. Two types of barley are commonly used in whiskey production: malted barley and unmalted barley.

Malted barley has enzymes that help convert starches in the grains to sugars during the mashing process, which can result in a sweeter whiskey.

Unmalted barley is often used in smaller amounts and contributes less sweetness.

Aging

Does aging affect sweetness?

Yes, aging can affect the sweetness of whiskey and bourbon.

During the aging process, the whiskey or bourbon is exposed to the wood of the new charred oak containers, which imparts flavors and aromas into the liquid.

As the liquid sits in the barrel, it can take on a range of flavors from the wood, including sweetness.

Over time, the sweetness can become more pronounced as the whiskey or bourbon interacts with the barrel. 

The length of aging can significantly impact the level of sweetness in the final product, with longer aging times often resulting in a sweeter taste.

However, other factors such as the type of barrel, the temperature and humidity of the aging environment, and the specific recipe used by the distiller can also impact the final sweetness of the whiskey or bourbon.

Flavor Profile

How do different flavors impact sweetness?

The flavors in whiskey can impact sweetness in different ways. For example, suppose a whiskey has flavors that are derived from the aging process, such as vanilla or caramel.

In that case, these flavors can contribute to a perceived sweetness in the whiskey. Similarly, fruit flavors in whiskey can sometimes be perceived as sweet, especially if they are more prominent than other flavors.

However, not all flavors in whiskey necessarily contribute to sweetness. For example, some whiskeys have a more spicy or smoky flavor profile, which may not be perceived as sweet even if they are present in the whiskey.

a glass of bourbon on the rocks beside its bottle

Sweetness Measurement

What are the sweetness levels of bourbon and whiskey?

The sweetness levels of bourbon and whiskey can vary depending on various factors, such as the aging process, the type and amount of grains used, and the distillation process.

The answer to the question, “does bourbon taste different than whiskey, is yes. It is slightly sweeter than whiskey due to the high percentage of corn used in its manufacturing.

However, the sweetness level can also depend on individual taste preferences and the bourbon brands and type of bourbon or whiskey consumed.

It is important to note that sweetness is just one aspect of the overall flavor profile of straight bourbon and whiskey, which can also include notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and spices.

FAQs

Is bourbon a sweet whiskey?

Bourbon is often considered to have a sweeter flavor profile than other types of whiskey, such as rye or scotch.

This is because of the corn used in the mash bill, which can contribute sweetness to the final product.

However, the sweetness level of bourbon can vary depending on factors such as the aging process and the specific recipe used by the distiller.

So while bourbon whiskey taste is generally considered sweet, it’s not always sweet.

What are the common types of whiskey?

There are several common types of whiskey, including:

  1. Bourbon: a type of American whiskey made from at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  2. Irish whiskey: made in Ireland from a fermented mash of malted and unmalted barley and aged for at least three years.
  3. Scotch whisky: made in Scotland from malted barley and aged for at least three years in oak casks.
  4. Canadian whisky: often made from a blend of different grains, such as corn, wheat, and rye, and aged in oak barrels.
  5. Japanese whisky: typically made using a blend of malted and unmalted barley and aged for at least three years in oak barrels.
  6. Rye whiskey: made from at least 51% rye and aged in oak barrels.
  7. Single malt whiskey: made from 100% malted barley from a single distillery and aged in oak barrels.
  8. Tennessee whiskey: Similar to bourbon, but made in Tennessee and filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging.

What are the popular bourbon cocktails?

There are many popular bourbon whiskey cocktails, some of which include:

  1. Old Fashioned: bourbon, sugar, bitters, orange slices, and cherry.
  2. Manhattan: bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters.
  3. Whiskey Sour: bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar.
  4. Mint Julep: bourbon, simple syrup, and fresh mint.
  5. Boulevardier: bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari.
  6. Kentucky Mule: bourbon, ginger beer, and lime juice.
  7. Brown Derby: bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup.
  8. Boulevard: bourbon, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and dry vermouth.
  9. Paper Plane: bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice.
  10. Rusty Nail: bourbon and Drambuie liqueur.

References

  1. https://distiller.com/articles/sweet-mash-bourbon
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