Whiskey and bourbon are two popular drinks in several parts of the world. If you are a person who isn’t much into brown liquor, the difference between Whiskey and Bourbon might not seem apparent.
This is because both are brown liquids and look almost alike.
In addition, we often interchange the term ‘whiskey’ and ‘bourbon,’ making it more confusing to distinguish between the two liquids.
However, as similar as they might seem, these drinks are quite different.
Table of Contents
- What is Whiskey?
- Whiskey or Whisky?
- Types of Whiskey
- What is Bourbon?
- Types of Bourbon
- Difference between Whiskey and Borbon
What is Whiskey?
The word “whiskey” is a shortened version of the Latin word “Asque Vitae,” which means “Water of life.” Originally, whiskey was used as medicine, an anesthetic, and an antibiotic.
However, between 1100 and 1300, monks brought distilling techniques up in Scotland and Ireland. This was because of the shortage of wine.
So, they distilled barley beer into the liquor that is now known as whiskey.
Long story short, whiskey is an alcoholic beverage that is distilled from fermented grain and stored in wood barrels.
Different grains such as corn, barley, rye, and wheat are used in producing various whiskeys.
Distilleries now distill whiskey in several parts of the world, especially in Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, and Japan.
These countries have different regulations that state how they should produce this spirit.
Although their regulation differs, they make it from the fermentation of grains, then distill and age it in wood barrels for a few years.
The aging process gives whiskey its wood and oak flavor, darkens the drink, and mellows the alcohol. Amazing!
Whiskey or Whisky?
Do you see the spellings “whiskey” and “whisky” and get confused? Are these different drinks, or is it simply a typographical error? Well, it is none of it.
Both names refer to the same liquor.
The difference in their spellings results from fundamental factors, such as the type of grain they use for its production and where they make it.
People use the term “whiskey” in the United States and Ireland, while it’s spelled “whisky” in Scotland and Canada. Still, we pronounce both terms as whisk(e)y.
Types of Whiskey
1. Bourbon whiskey
Bourbon whiskey is an American whiskey produced with at least 51% of corn mash. The corn gives the spirit its flavor. This signature flavor makes it sweeter than whiskey, which is distilled from other grains.
To be characterized as bourbon, the spirit must be produced in the United States and aged in white oak barrels. For every batch, these oak barrels must be brand new and unused.
2. Tennessee Whiskey
Companies make Tennessee whiskey from at least 51% of corn mash. It is a type of whiskey but has additional requirements that make it different.
As the name implies, they must make it in Tennessee, and it must go through the Lincoln County process.
The process mellows the taste by removing some alcohols and esters.
3. Irish Whiskey
The simplest requirement of Irish whiskey is that they produce it in Ireland. It is made from a mash that contains malt barley and is kept in wooden casks for three years to age.
These barrels add more flavor to the whiskey as it matures. In addition, it contains no additives except caramel coloring and water.
4. Rye Whiskey
American Rye is made with 51% of mash containing rye grain. This gives the drink a sharp, peppery taste different from other kinds of whiskey.
It is mainly distilled in the United States and Canada and matured in new oak barrels.
However, instead of using rye as the primary ingredients, other grains are used for its production, with a small amount of rye added for flavor.
5. Canadian Whiskey
This spirit is made with any grain and is produced in Canada. It is also left to mature for three years in wooden barrels.
Traditional Canadian whiskey is known for its blending of different grains or whiskey styles from several countries.
With a unique technique, the batches are blended such that it has the perfect flavor and proof.
6. Scotch Whiskey
To be classified as scotch, the whiskey must be produced in Scotland. It is made from malted barley and aged for at least three years in oak casks.
The region determines the flavor of scotch whiskey it was made, the barrels used for maturation, and the malt.
7. Japanese Whiskey
Japanese whiskey dates to the 1920s, but until recently, its requirements were not specified.
However, as of April 2021, it became known that Japanese whisky must be made in Japan with malted grain included in the mash and must be aged in wooden casks for no less than three years.
Using the Japanese oak, Miznura, gives the whiskey a range of unique flavors, like coconut and sweet spices.
8. White Whiskey
White whiskey is a type of whiskey that remains clear because it does not age in wooden casks. Often called fresh whiskey, it retains the flavor of the grain used in its fermentation.
9. European Whiskey
European Whiskey is distilled and produced from fermented grain mash. Different grains such as corn, rye, wheat, and barley are used for varieties.
Like most whiskeys, it is aged for at least three years in wooden casks and prepared according to European standards.
10. Blended Whiskey
Blended whiskey is a combination of different whiskey produced by different distilleries.
Let’s talk about bourbon now that we have extensive knowledge of whiskey.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is distilled from corn mash. It must be aged for a minimum of two years in charred oak barrels, giving the spirit a diverse flavor comprising Vanilla, caramel, spice, and oak.
Though famously linked with Kentucky, other parts of America produce bourbon.
Types of Bourbon
1. Traditional Bourbon
Traditional Bourbon comprises over 70% corn, the rest being rye and barley. Typical examples include old crow, Knob Creek, and Wild Turkey.
2. Wheat Bourbon
Wheat bourbon is produced like traditional bourbon. The difference is that you use wheat in its mash instead of rye. This softens the burn of the spirit and sweetens the flavor.
Top examples of this brand are Four Roses and Old Fitzgerald.
3. Rye Bourbon
Rye bourbon is made with less corn, little barley, and more rye. The spirit is known for its bite and taste. Popular brands include Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, and Four roses.
Difference between Whiskey and Borbon
As you may have noticed, we have described bourbon as a type of whiskey. This is the primary difference between Whiskey and Bourbon. Others include;
This is a significant difference between bourbon and other kinds of whiskeys. All whiskeys are made from fermented grain, but the grain usually differs. Unlike other types of Whiskey, Bourbon must be made with at least 51 percent corn mash.
This gives the spirit its sweet taste.
Bourbon must age in unused oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Other whiskeys can age in barrels that have been used previously for other spirits, and it doesn’t have to be charred oak.
Another difference between Whiskey and Bourbon is that bourbon has specific proof requirements.
To be labeled as bourbon, the mash must be distilled at 80 percent alcohol or less and aged in barrels until 62.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Before it is bottled, it is diluted down to 40 percent alcohol. However, other whiskeys have different standards for barreling and distilling.
Region of production
Lastly, to be classified as bourbon, it must be produced within the United States. Other countries produce their whiskey. For example, Scotland produces scotch whiskey, and Ireland produces Irish whiskey.
Similarly, America makes bourbon.
Though there is an apparent difference between Whiskey and Bourbon, both are favored for their distinct tastes. Because of this, they are both commonly used in the preparation of cocktails. In summary, as you may have heard, all whiskeys are bourbon, but not all bourbons are whiskey.