Updated: Jul 25
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between whiskey and bourbon? Well, it wasn’t too long back now that I had a random gentleman stop through my garage bar, as folks do from time to time when the garage doors are up, and the weather is nice. I must admit that it does take some courage to just walk up on someone here in Texas, but the glow from my lighted bar shelves and the wall of bourbon draws folks in like a moth to a flame! After the typical ogling of my setup and exchange of niceties, I poured him a beverage and we settled into conversation. As we chatted, he noticed my Certified Bourbon Professional certificate hung neatly on the wall and asked, “you clearly know a thing or two about liquor, what’s the difference between whiskey versus bourbon?” It struck me that this might be worth a blog post so here we are today discussing for some, what will be the foundation for what will certainly be a very expensive habit for you moving forward…
Whiskey or Whisky | Abridged Etymology
First things first, lets address the disappearing and reappearing “e.” Broadly speaking, Whiskey (or Whisky) is the umbrella term that many various distilled alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain mash fall under. The spelling Whiskey is common in Ireland and here in the United States, whereas the spelling Whisky is used in the other whisky-producing regions. That said, although Whiskey is the common usage in the United States, the codified regulations governing the spirit use the spelling “whisky.” At the end of the day, they are highly interchangeable and a matter of personal or regional preference…as for me, it’s Whiskey. That said, any trip to the local liquor store will yield a variety of spellings. Feel free to use whichever suits.
What Makes Whiskey, Whiskey | Are Bourbon and Whiskey the Same?
Whiskey comes in many different forms and can be made from a variety of different malted grains including barley, corn, rye and wheat. It also has lots of differences in color, taste and smell. Whiskey is also typically aged in wooden barrels, often old sherry casks or charred white oak, spending years or decades cooped up on the inside of a barrel before making it to you. Within the Whiskey Family, there are nine main types of whiskey, Bourbon Whiskey which we’ll chat about today, Rye Whiskey, Scotch Whiskey, Japanese Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, Blended Whiskey and Irish Whiskey. So the question at hand is "what is bourbon whiskey" rather than "bourbon whiskey versus bourbon."
Bourbon Whiskey: Tastes Like ‘Merica
As mentioned above, Bourbon Whiskey is just one of several different types of whiskey. As enacted by Congress, for a whiskey to be considered bourbon it MUST have a mash bill composition of a minimum of 51 percent corn. What is a mash bill you ask? A mash bill is the mix of grains that creates the whiskey’s recipe, with the terminology mash bill being unique to the United States. I’m a big fan of Old Forester, so for example it’s mash bill is the following: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley. Most whiskeys use three grains, although there are a few outliers. Just know that a mash bill simply put is the bourbons recipe.
Further differentiating Bourbon Whiskey and required by law, this type of whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. It’s the norm for these barrels to be white oak, but again, not always the case. Given the requirement for “new” barrels to be used, thousands of used barrels find a second life across the pond in Scotland where they are reassembled and used to age Scotch Whiskey. Something like nine out of ten casks have origins here in the United States.
Although many folks associate bourbon with Kentucky, and more broadly the south, bourbon may be produced anywhere in the United States. Not surprisingly, as of 2018, approximately 95% of all bourbon was produced in Kentucky according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
Whiskey versus Bourbon Explained by Bourboneur
Now that you know more about whiskey versus bourbon, or bourbon whiskey rather, be sure to stop by The Shop get started on your own home bar design.