What is the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey?

Written by Peoples Bourbon Review Staff |
Published on:

If you love brown liquor, you probably know the difference between Bourbon and whiskey. Both are brown liquor, and some people might even say they have the same taste. If you refer to Bourbon as whiskey, you will not be wrong as it is a type of whiskey. However, not all whiskey is Bourbon. But, what is the difference between Bourbon and whiskey? Read on to learn the similarities and differences between Bourbon and whiskey.

The History of the Liquors


All Bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are Bourbons.

Whiskey dates back to the 1400s according to the early written accounts of the liquor, with its actual origin disputed between Irish and Scots. However, the liquor was made from a mash of cereal grains like rye, barley, corn, and wheat aged in wood barrels. Whiskey is the most diverse spirit, and individual styles and cultures impose their specific conditions on the manufacturing process. For instance, the Irish whiskey is made from malted barley and matured in oak for three years. There are many different types, such as Scotch, rye, Bourbon, and liquor, depending on the region of origin. Spirits from regions such as Scotland, Canada, and Japan might be labeled whiskey, while liquor from America and Ireland are labeled whiskey.


Bourbon, a type of whiskey, is considered an authentic American spirit associated with the South (Kentucky) and has been around since the 1800s. Although it is possible to produce the Bourbon spirit globally legally, you'd better not call it Bourbon. Bourbon is a truly American spirit and for it to be called Bourbon, it must be made in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky. 

Bourbon can be made in states other than Kentucky.


Authentic Bourbon is produced in America and is made of a mixture of whole grains but must have 51% corn, giving it the sweet flavor. On the other hand, whiskey is produced in different countries such as Scotland, Canada, Ireland, and Japan without a specific percentage of the grains which go into the production process. Whiskey from different parts of the world tastes different, while Bourbon has a specific taste. Moreover, Bourbon is stored in new charred-oak barrels during the production, while the wood barrels used to make whiskey do not need to be new, oak, or charred. Finally, Bourbon should be distilled to no more than 160 proof during the distillation process and should enter the barrel at 125; this is not common practice for other whiskeys; it is Bourbon law. On the other hand, whiskey is distilled to no more than 190 proof.


Whiskey regulations might not be strict and vary from one country to another, and there are different types of whiskeys produced with different rules and standards. Scottish whiskey is different from Irish, Japanese, and Canadian whiskey. Contrarily, the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 is a set of rules and regulations that govern Bourbon spirits' production. The strict regulations were adopted because most distillers in the 1800s adulterated the Bourbon spirits during the manufacturing process. The act states that the Bourbon spirits should be a product of one distillation season done by one distiller at the production site. Moreover, the Bourbon must not contain coloring, flavors, and any other additives. The Bourbon whiskey should be bottled and stored in a bonded warehouse under the supervision of the US government for not less than four years.

Surprisingly, the regulations on Bourbon production revolutionized American whiskey; it led to uniformity in taste and production technique, which set aside Bourbon from other whiskeys. For instance, the spirit was not thought of so highly until the new regulations were put in place. Although some of the Bourbon production regulations have been relaxed, it is remarkable to see how the regulations of Bourbon whiskey have revolutionized its production and taste. The Bourbon revolutionized from a drink that was cheap, bitter, and bad into a sweet treat. You can easily identify the Bourbon whiskey from other whiskeys due to its signature red wax seal and label.

The Takeaway

Although Bourbon is a type of whiskey produced in America and dates back to the 1800s, it still stands out among other brands. Whiskey dates back to the 1400s and originated from either Scotland or Ireland, but now it is produced in countries like America, Canada, and Japan. The different whiskeys are produced under different conditions, and there is no uniformity in taste and composition. On the other hand, Bourbon, an American whiskey, is produced under strict conditions; it should contain 51%corn, be made in the US, be aged in new oak-charred barrels, and do not have any additives. You must have noticed that the Bourbon has a consistent taste as it is produced under similar conditions by different distillers.

Author: Peoples Bourbon Review Staff
The People's Bourbon Review - The ultimate Bourbon reviews and tasting notes by enthusiasts and the people.


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