The Bourbon Flight has received many emails asking, “What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?” So, we are clearing it up once and for all.
Both whiskey and bourbon are types of distilled alcoholic beverages, but bourbon is a specific subtype of whiskey. The main differences between whiskey and bourbon lie in their ingredients, production process, and geographic origin.
Here are the key distinctions:
- Whiskey: Whiskey is a broad category of distilled alcoholic beverage that can be made from fermented grain mash. The grains used in whiskey production can include barley, corn, rye, and wheat.
- Bourbon: Bourbon is a type of whiskey, but it has specific requirements for its grain content. Bourbon must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn by law. The remaining portion can include other grains, such as barley, rye, and wheat.
- Geographic Origin:
- Whiskey: Whiskey can be produced in various countries, including Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States.
- Bourbon: While bourbon can technically be produced anywhere in the United States, it is strongly associated with Kentucky. There are legal requirements for a whiskey to be labeled “Kentucky bourbon.” Straight bourbon must be aged at least two years.
- Production Process:
- Whiskey: The production process for whiskey typically involves distilling the fermented grain mash, aging it in wooden casks (usually oak barrels), and bottling it.
- Bourbon: Bourbon must meet specific criteria for its production process. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume), entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. Bourbon must also be aged in new charred oak barrels.
- Flavor Profile:
- Whiskey: The whiskey flavor can vary widely depending on the type of grains used, the distillation process, and the aging conditions. It may have notes of caramel, vanilla, spice, and more. Additional flavor can be introduced during the mashing process.
- Bourbon: Bourbon often has a sweeter and fuller-bodied flavor profile due to the higher corn content. You might encounter flavors like caramel and toffee and a hint of sweetness in bourbon.
- A “secondary finish” in the context of bourbon refers to an additional period of aging or maturation that the bourbon undergoes after its initial aging in the primary barrels. During this secondary finish, the bourbon is transferred to a different type of cask or barrel to impart additional flavors and characteristics to the spirit. This step is sometimes called “double maturation” or “secondary aging.”
Bourbon is a specific type of whiskey with distinct requirements regarding grain content, geographic origin, and production processes. All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.
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