If you are a fan of brown spirits, you might have wondered what is the difference between bourbon and whiskey. Are they the same thing? Are they interchangeable? How do they taste different? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more, so you can enjoy your favorite drink with confidence and knowledge.
Here is a summary of what we will cover:
- The definition and history of bourbon and whiskey
- The main differences between bourbon and whiskey in terms of ingredients, production, and aging
- The different types of whiskey from around the world, such as American whiskey, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, and Canadian whisky
- The best brands of bourbon and whiskey to try from us, The Barrel Tap, an online liquor store that delivers all kinds of whiskey from around the world to your home
I. What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that has a distinct flavor and aroma. Bourbon must follow certain rules to be labeled as such, according to the U.S. Congress. These rules are:
- Bourbon must be made in the U.S. (and 95% of it is made in Kentucky!)
- Bourbon must be made from a fermented mash of at least 51% corn, though most are closer to 70% corn
- Bourbon must be distilled at no more than 160 proof, and be stored at no more than 125 proof
- Bourbon is aged for at least two years in a new, charred white oak barrel
- Bourbon never contains additives, like color or flavor
Bourbon is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it was first produced in the 18th century by settlers from Scotland and Ireland. Bourbon became popular after the American Revolution, when farmers found it easier to transport distilled corn than raw corn. Bourbon also gained fame during the Prohibition era, when it was legally produced for medicinal purposes.
It has a rich and smooth taste, with notes of vanilla, oak, caramel, and spice. It can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, as well as in classic cocktails like the Mint Julep, the Old Fashioned, and the Manhattan.
II. What Is Whiskey?
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from grains like corn, rye, barley, or wheat. Whiskey is produced around the world, including in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Canada, and the U.S. Whiskey can be unaged (as with moonshine), but most whiskey is aged in wooden barrels which darkens its color, imparts oak and wood flavor characteristics, and mellows out the harsh taste of alcohol.
There are many different types of whiskey, each with its own style and flavor profile. Some of the most common types are:
- American whiskey: This category includes bourbon, as well as other whiskeys that are made from different grains or aged in different barrels. For example, rye whiskey is made from at least 51% rye and has a spicy and peppery taste. Tennessee whiskey is similar to bourbon but undergoes an additional charcoal filtering process that makes it smoother and sweeter.
- Scotch whisky: This is whisky that is made in Scotland from malted barley. Scotch whisky can be single malt (made by one distillery) or blended (made from a mix of different whiskies). Scotch whisky is aged for at least three years in oak barrels that have been previously used for other spirits like sherry or bourbon. Scotch whisky has a smoky and peaty taste, due to the use of peat to dry the malted barley.
- Irish whiskey: This is made in Ireland from malted or unmalted barley. Irish whiskey can be single malt (made by one distillery) or blended (made from a mix of different whiskeys). Irish whiskey is aged for at least three years in oak barrels that have been previously used for other spirits like bourbon or sherry. Irish whiskey has a smooth and fruity taste, due to the use of triple distillation and pot stills.
- Japanese whisky: Made in Japan from malted barley. Japanese whisky can be single malt (made by one distillery) or blended (made from a mix of different whiskies). Japanese whisky is aged for at least three years in oak barrels that have been previously used for other spirits like sherry or bourbon. Japanese whisky has a delicate and floral taste, due to the use of pure water sources and meticulous craftsmanship.
- Canadian whisky: Made from various grains like corn, rye, barley, or wheat. Canadian whisky can be single grain (made from one type of grain) or blended (made from a mix of different grains). Canadian whisky is aged for at least three years in oak barrels that have been previously used for other spirits like bourbon or sherry. Canadian whisky has a light and smooth taste, due to the use of column stills and high-proof distillation.
You might have noticed that some countries spell whiskey with an “e” and some spell whisky without an “e”. This is mainly a matter of tradition and preference, but there is a general rule that can help you remember: countries that have an “e” in their name (like the United States and Ireland) spell whiskey with an “e”, while countries that do not have an “e” in their name (like Scotland and Japan) spell whisky without an “e”.
III. What Are the Main Differences Between Bourbon and Whiskey?
The main differences between bourbon and whiskey are the kind of grain used, the place of origin, and the type of barrel used for aging. Here is a table that summarizes these differences:
|Made from at least 51% corn||Made from various grains like corn, rye, barley, or wheat|
|Made in the U.S.||Made in various countries like Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Canada, or the U.S.|
|Aged in new, charred oak barrels||Aged in used oak barrels that have been charred or not|
These differences affect the taste and aroma of bourbon and whiskey, as well as the price and availability. Bourbon tends to have a sweeter and smoother taste than whiskey, due to the high corn content and the new oak barrels. Whiskey tends to have a more complex and diverse taste than bourbon, due to the different grains and the used oak barrels.
Bourbon is usually more expensive than whiskey, due to the higher production costs and the limited supply. Whiskey is usually more accessible than bourbon, due to the wider distribution and the larger variety.
IV. What Are the Best Brands of Bourbon and Whiskey to Try?
If you are looking for a great bourbon or whiskey to try, you can find some of the best brands at The Barrel Tap, an online liquor store that delivers liquor and beer to your home. The Barrel Tap sells all types of spirits from around the world, and has some of the most competitive prices in the market.
Here are some of our recommendations for bourbon and whiskey lovers:
Starting with Bourbon
Buffalo Trace: A timeless bourbon showcasing a harmonious blend of vanilla, caramel, spice, and oak. Crafted from corn, rye, and malted barley, it's matured for over eight years in new charred oak barrels. Ideal for both sipping or weaving into cocktails.
Old Forester: With a storied past, this bourbon delights with a rich tapestry of brown sugar, chocolate, orange, and cinnamon. A blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, it's barrel-aged for four years. Perfectly suited for a chilled drink or a classic Old Fashioned.
Jim Beam: This is the most popular bourbon in America, it's deliciously sweet with hints of honey, vanilla, corn, and oak. Composed of corn, rye, and malted barley, and aged for a minimum of four years. Whether neat or blended, it shines.
Woodford Reserve: An exquisite bourbon, it unfurls with notes of citrus, caramel, chocolate, spice, and leather. Derived from corn, rye, and malted barley, it boasts of at least six years of aging. A delight to relish pure or over ice.
Maker’s Mark: Singular in its taste, it serenades with caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, and cherry. Distinctively using corn, wheat, and malted barley, and aging for six years. Its elegance is best appreciated neat or chilled.
Now for whiskey/whisky
- Jack Daniel’s: A legendary Tennessee whiskey with sweet undertones of caramel, vanilla, banana, and a smoky hint. Crafted using corn, rye, and malted barley, it undergoes charcoal filtering pre-aging.
- George Dickel: A spicy Tennessee twist, with robust flavors of pepper, cinnamon, honey, and oak. Made similarly to Jack, it offers unique smoothness. Perfect for pure sips or cocktail blends.
- The Macallan: An iconic Scotch whisky, radiating with dried fruits, sherry, vanilla, and wood nuances. Malted barley aged for 12 years in sherry oak barrels is its secret.
- The Balvenie: Another captivating Scotch, with layers of honey, vanilla, malt, and oak. Matured from malted barley for 12 years in bourbon and sherry barrels.
- Jameson: This is a popular Irish whiskey that is smooth and fruity, with notes of apple, pear, spice, and wood. Jameson is made from malted and unmalted barley, and is aged for at least four years in used bourbon and sherry oak barrels. Jameson is versatile for drinking neat or mixing in cocktails.
- Redbreast: This is a premium Irish whiskey that is smooth and creamy, with notes of dried fruits, nuts, spice, and wood. Redbreast Whiskey is made from malted and unmalted barley, and is aged for at least 12 years in used bourbon and sherry oak barrels.
- Hibiki: This is a refined Japanese whisky that is smooth and floral, with notes of citrus, peach, rose, and wood. Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky is made from malted barley, and is a blend of various whiskies aged in different types of barrels.
- Nikka Whisky: Another Japanese gem, smoky with apple, pear, and peat notes. A malted concoction blended from various aged whiskies. Ideal for neat or chilled sips.
- Crown Royal: This is a famous Canadian whisky that is smooth and sweet, with notes of caramel, vanilla, maple, and oak. Crown Royal is made from various grains like corn, rye, barley, or wheat, and is aged for at least three years in used bourbon oak barrels.
- Pendleton: A Canadian treat, spiced with honey, orange, and ginger. Crafted from a grain blend and matured for three years. Best experienced neat or in a cocktail fusion.
These are just some of the amazing brands of bourbon and whiskey that you can find at The Barrel Tap. You can browse our whiskey collection [here] to see the full selection of whiskey/whisky from around the world. You can also order online and get your bottle delivered to your doorstep in no time.
We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between bourbon and whiskey, as well as the different types of whiskey from around the world. Whether you prefer bourbon or whiskey, you can always find something to suit your taste buds at The Barrel Tap. Cheers!
Please sip responsibly!