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What's the Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon?

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The main difference between whiskey and bourbon is in the taste. Bourbon has a smoother and thicker taste while whiskey has a slightly stronger taste. Indeed, whiskey and bourbon are two liquors that are quite difficult to distinguish for the novice. They are both the result of distilling a mixture of grains, but it is the composition of this "mash bill" that determines whether it is whiskey or bourbon.

What is Whiskey?

Une sélection des meilleures bouteilles de Whisky
A selection of the best bottles of whiskey

Whisky or whiskey is a spirit obtained by distilling a fermented mixture of cereals generally composed of corn, barley (malted or not), rye and wheat. To this is added yeast and water (lots of water).

The exact origin of whiskey is still subject to a controversy between the Scots and the Irish. Later, the latter brought their know-how to the United States, mainly in the state of Kentucky, which has become the leading producer of whiskey and bourbon in the world.

A bottle of whiskey can be blended or single malt. Blended whiskey is a mixture of liquors from several distilleries. Single malt whiskey is the product of a single distillery and is the most sought-after type of whiskey appreciated by connoisseurs.

The Scotch Whiskey Single Malt remains the most famous of all whiskies, it is obtained with malted barley and contains 40 ° of alcohol by volume. It is a whiskey exclusively made in Scotland and must age for at least 3 years in an oak barrel.

What is Bourbon?

Quelques-unes des marques de Bourbon les plus populaires
Some of the most popular Bourbon brands

Bourbon is a variety of whiskey made exclusively in the United States. It is a softer, thicker whiskey made from a grain blend of at least 51% added corn with wheat, malted barley or rye added. Barley is rarely used to make bourbon. Bourbon must be aged in white oak barrels. It is mostly produced in the state of Kentucky.

There are two versions as to the origin of its name. The first one says that the name bourbon came from Pastor Elijah Craig who named his productions like this. The second one says that it received this name from the county of Bourbon (Kentucky) which is the first world producer of this liquor.

Differences between Whiskey and Bourbon

1. Origin

Whiskey is a European beverage produced all over the world, but mainly in Scotland and Ireland.

Bourbon is a variation of whiskey that is made only in the United States. That's why it is also called "American whiskey".

2. Basic ingredients (mash bill)

The composition of the mash bill and the percentage ratio of ingredients are the main elements that differentiate a whiskey from a bourbon.

Whiskey is made with a mash bill containing corn, rye, wheat, and malted or unmalted barley.

Bourbon is made primarily of corn, with a ratio of at least 51% of the blend. The rest can be wheat, rye, or malted barley. It is important to note that the corn composition for bourbon making can go beyond 51%, this figure is the minimum percentage that must be respected.

3. Distillation

The difference in taste between bourbon and whiskey is also due to the way in which they were each distilled. A whiskey can undergo a change in taste and addition of coloring at the end of its distillation process. Bourbon, on the other hand, should not undergo any additions or changes after distillation.

4. Aging

The aging processes of bourbon and whiskey are also different. Bourbon must age for at least 2 years in an oak barrel, for a better result some distilleries can let it age for about 6 years.

Whiskey needs to be aged at least 3 years. Single malt can even be aged for about 12 years.

Comparison Table: Bourbon Vs Whiskey

OriginBourbon County (United States)Kentucky (USA), Scotland, and Ireland
IngredientsCorn (51%), wheat, malted barley, ryeCorn, barley (malted or not), wheat, rye
Place of productionOnly in the United StatesAnywhere in the world
AgingMinimum 2 years in new oak barrelsAt least 3 years in barrels

Similarities between Whiskey and Bourbon

Whiskey and bourbon are alcoholic beverages obtained through the distillation of a mixture of grains. Their manufacturing process requires the use of a very large quantity of water. Moreover, most distilleries are located near a drinking water source to satisfy this need for water. You should know that for a 70 cl bottle of brown liquor, you need about 10 liters of water.


Who invented bourbon?

According to legend, bourbon was invented by Pastor Elijah Craig, owner of the Heaven Hill distillery in Kentucky. This last one who was also a distiller would have called the name of his products (whiskey with a high percentage of corn) bourbon. However, this fact is still very much disputed, as many people believe that bourbon is the result of an evolution of whiskey through time and under the influence of many hands.

Is Jack Daniel's a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel's is not bourbon. It is a whiskey that originated in Tennessee while bourbon is a whiskey that originated in Kentucky. But it's not just a question of origin, after distillation, bourbon does not undergo any change in taste or addition of coloring. Jack Daniel's, on the other hand, is filtered through a 10-foot layer of maple charcoal after distillation and before being put into barrels.

Is bourbon whiskey?

Yes, bourbon is a whiskey, more exactly, it is a variation of whiskey that was born in the United States following the immigration of the Scots and the Irish. But be careful, if bourbon is whiskey, whiskey is not necessarily bourbon.


Whiskey and bourbon are two liquors resulting from the distillation of a mixture of cereals. The main difference between these two types of alcohol lies in their taste. Bourbon is sweeter and milder than whiskey. Apart from that, there are also differences in the origin, the ingredients used, the production process, and the aging process.

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
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