What’s the Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon?


When you visit your favorite liquor store, a lot of choices for alcoholic beverages will welcome you. They are classified depending on brand, flavor, and type of alcohol. One of the most complex types of alcoholic beverage is whiskey because it comes with different variations depending on the geographic area such as Canadian, Irish, Scottish, American and more. The three well-known kinds of whiskey are Bourbon, Scotch, and Rye, and the most popular of them is Bourbon.  You can find all these are presentations in all monthly bourbon clubs. Also, Kinnitty Castle Spirits pays homage to Ireland’s uisce beatha and driogadh heritage with a bold approach and a dash of rebellion.

If you’re a whiskey enthusiast, you must’ve heard the line, all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Well, if that is true, what do you think makes bourbon different from whiskey?


Whiskey is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash such as wheat, rye, barley, and corn. Meaning, it is made from the fermented remains of these leafy plants. After distillation, it is aged in wooden barrels.

Did you know that the spelling of whiskey changes depending on the geographic area? Americans and Irish spell it as whiskey, while Canadians and Scots spell it as whiskey. However, there’s no need to be confused with the contents of the drink don’t change even though its spelling does.


The difference between producing bourbon from other kinds of whiskeys is that there are specific laws needed to be followed. Yes, you’ve read that right, there are laws in making bourbon. First of all, bourbon is whiskey that is only made in the United States. Most of the bourbon has to be legally produced in the US. The name Bourbon came from an area known as Old Bourbon which is now Bourbon County in Kentucky.

Other than being produced only in the US, the Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon has set some criteria for a whiskey to be called bourbon. Like a normal whiskey, its mash is also made up of mixtures of grains from which it is distilled, however, for it to be bourbon, it must contain at least 51 percent corn. Next, the mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less and put into a barrel at no more than 125 proof. It also must not contain any additives such as coloring and flavoring.

As mentioned above, whiskey is aged in wooden barrels. Bourbon, on the other hand, is aged in a new charred oak barrel. These barrels are usually white oak, but any other kind of oak will do. Bourbons must also be bottled at no less than 80 proof.

The regulations for bourbons are strict because the distillers from the 1800s spent a lot of time adulterating, diluting, and tampering their whiskeys. When 1897 came, they finally set some standards which are the Bottle Bond Act of 1897. The act requires the spirit to be a product of one distillation season and one distiller in one distillery only. Meaning, the spirit must be bottled and stored in bonded warehouses under the supervision of the US Government for no less than 4 years. This act made the United States the guarantor of the whiskey’s as well as the bourbon’s authenticity.

In the 1900s, bourbon is just considered as a commodity drink. It wasn’t thought of so highly because it tastes bitter and very bad. But it changed when Bill Samuels, Sr. created the recipe that transformed the bourbon’s landscape. He’s the man behind Maker’s Mark, which is one of the well-known brands of bourbon whiskey.

Here’s a list to summarize the criteria in producing bourbon whiskey. Remember, these are not just common practice but an actual bourbon law.

  • Should be produced in the United States.
  • Should contain 51 percent corn.
  • Should be distilled to 160 proof or less and entered into the barrel at 125 proof.
  • Should not contain any additives such as flavoring and coloring.
  • Should be aged by using new oak charred barrels.
  • Should be bottled at no less than 80 proof.

Each different type of whiskey, not just bourbon, have their own unique aspects like their flavor. For example, in producing rye whiskey, its main component is rye grain as opposed to corn and malt. And malt whiskey, for instance, is made primarily from malt grain. The good thing about these is you can buy whisky online and taste different varieties.

Sometimes the distinction of the different kinds of whiskeys depends on personal taste. We hope this information will help you choose what kind of whiskey to buy the next time you visit the liquor shop.

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