Bourbon vs. Whisky? What’s the difference?

Often times you will hear the term Bourbon referred to as Whisky, and vice versa, even though the tastes are hardly comparable. Although both statements are accurate, Bourbon is always considered Whisky while Whisky is of course, not always Bourbon.  The debate between which alcohol is ‘better’ than the other is always dependent on personal taste, however the differences between the two stem from geography, ingredients, and spellings.


Whisky can be produced anywhere in the world, with Scotland and Ireland being among the largest producers. Blended Scotch, an infusion of multiple single malts or grain whiskies, is the primary whisky offering, and many of the most popular brands over the years have come from this and have been a popular consumer’s choice. Bourbon, on the other hand, must be made in the USA, and if it’s not, then it is not considered Bourbon. Bourbon was recognized as a “distinctive product of the United States” on May 4 1964.

Bourbon, is also a type of American Whiskey, with the “e” included. Other types of American Whiskey include Corn and Rye whiskey. This usage of the term is common in the Tennessee and Kentucky regions of the US.

Whisky, is generally classified as being made with any combination of grains, production at less than 190 proof (US), storage in Oak containers, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (US) (40% alcohol by volume). For a Whisky to be considered Bourbon, the requirements met include a grain mixture containing at least 51% Corn, a production at no more than 160 proof (US) (80% alcohol by volume), storage at no more than 125 Proof (US) (62.5% alcohol by volume), and it must be stored in new Charred Oak Containers.

A common misconception in the Whisky industry is the debate of whether or not Jack Daniel’s is a Bourbon. Contrary to popular belief, Jack Daniels is not a Bourbon and is actually a Tennessee Whiskey. Tennessee Whiskey must be produced in the state of Tennessee, and must be filtered through Sugar Maple Charcoal.

Now that the difference between the two is clear, whether or not you prefer to drink Bourbon over Whisky, such as Scotch, or vice versa, you are still drinking a whisky product. Also, now you can correct your friends and colleagues when they try and tell you that Jack Daniels is bourbon. Whichever your drink of choice is, always remember to drink responsibly.

Gregory Burbenne is an experienced blogger in the whisky industry.

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