Home Articles Bourbon vs. Whiskey- The Main Differences

Bourbon vs. Whiskey- The Main Differences

Both bourbon and whiskey are undeniably delicious. Any seasoned spirit connoisseur can tell you that. 

I appreciate the unique qualities of each. But what makes them different? And which one is better?

Bourbon vs. Whiskey- The Main Differences featuring Cinnamon Bourbon Whiskey in 3  Shot Glasses on a cutting Board with a Cinnamon Stick and Ground Cinnamon

In this article, I will explore the distinguishing characteristics of bourbon vs. whiskey.

Whether you are a whiskey whiz or a curious beginner, you may learn something new. Let me guide you toward your perfect pour.

Bourbon vs. Whiskey (What’s the Difference?)


  • Bourbon: Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that originated in Kentucky, USA.
    • It doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky to be considered bourbon.
    • However, a significant portion of bourbon production is still based there.
  • Whiskey: Whiskey is a broader category of distilled spirit produced in various countries.
    • The spelling “whiskey” is common in Ireland and the United States.
    • While “whisky” is the preferred term in Scotland, Canada, and Japan, among other places.

Grain Makeup

  • Bourbon: By law, bourbon must contain a mash bill (grain mixture) of at least 51% corn.
    • The remaining percentage can include other grains like malted barley, rye, and wheat.
  • Whiskey: The grain makeup of whiskey varies depending on the type and region.
    • For example, Scotch whisky often contains malted barley. Irish whiskey can include a mix of malted and unmalted barley. 

Aging Process

  • Bourbon: Bourbon must age in new charred oak barrels.
    • There is no specific aging requirement for bourbon to be legally called bourbon.
    • But to be labeled as “straight” bourbon, it must age for 2 years- minimum.
  • Whiskey: The aging process for whiskey can vary based on the type and region.
    • Some types of whiskey, like Scotch, age in used oak barrels. This can contribute to different flavors. 
    • The aging duration can also vary significantly. This depends on the type of whiskey and the distillery practices.


  • Bourbon: Producers bottle bourbon at a higher proof, often ranging from 80 to 125. ( Or 40% to 62.5% alcohol by volume).
    • However, there is no strict requirement for the proof of bourbon.
  • Whiskey: The proof of whiskey can vary widely depending on the type and brand.
    • It’s often bottled at various proofs, ranging from 40% to over 60% alcohol by volume.

Taste and Flavor

  • Bourbon: Bourbon has a sweet and robust flavor profile.
    • The high corn content contributes to its sweetness. 
    • Other grains like rye or barley can add complexity and spiciness.
  • Whiskey: The taste and flavor of whiskey vary based on the type and region.
    • Scotch whisky, for example, can have peaty and smoky flavors. 
    • Irish whiskey is smoother and lighter.
Bourbon Shot on the Rocks with the Bottle of Bourbon in the Background

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a whiskey variety from the United States. To be considered bourbon, it must meet specific requirements. 

Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn grain in its makeup. Other grains like barley, rye, or wheat also make into the grain mash.

After making the mix of grains, they distill it. Then, producers put it in new but charred (inside) oak barrels.

This charring gives bourbon its unique taste and color. Unlike some other whiskeys, bourbon has to be put into brand-new barrels.

The bourbon changes its flavor and color as it interacts with the wood.

Bourbon tastes sweet and can have flavors like vanilla, caramel, and oak. 

It’s a favorite for making classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep.

Whiskey Poured in a Glass With Ice on a Wooden Table with an Ice Cube Beside the Glass

What Is Whiskey? 

Whiskey is liquor that comes from fermented grains. It will usually feature a mixture of barley, corn, rye, or wheat. 

Different whiskey varieties have different grain ratios. But the creation process is similar, no matter the grains. 

Producers mash the grains and then ferment them. This means they sit for a time and turn to alcohol.

After the fermentation, producers distill the mixture with heat to separate the alcohol. 

Then, the alcohol goes into wooden barrels to age. This aging process can give whiskey different colors and flavors.

You can enjoy whiskey in various ways! Sip it neat (by itself), use it in cooking, or try a whiskey cocktail

Other Types of Whiskey

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey has a distinct spicy and fruity flavor profile. You can enjoy it alone, in cocktails, or used in cooking.

Scotch Whiskey

Scotch whisky, or Scotch, is an aged, malted barley whiskey. It comes from Scotland. Hence, the name. 

Producers age it for at least 3 years. 

You can find several different Scotch varieties, like single malt (made at one distillery). Another popular Scotch is Blended (a mix of whiskies). 

Scotch can have various flavors, including smoky, peaty, and fruity notes.

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey comes from Ireland. People love it for its smooth and light character. It’s often triple-distilled, which makes it very pure.

Japanese Whiskey

Japanese whisky is gaining popularity worldwide for its exceptional quality and craftsmanship. 

Inspired by Scotch whisky-making techniques, Japanese distilleries have created their own unique styles.

Two Glasses of Whiskey over Ice on a Wooden Table with the Whiskey Bottle on Its Side in Background

Bourbon vs. Whiskey (Which Is Better?)

Both bourbon and whiskey hold a special place in the hearts of bibulous people everywhere.

But in choosing between the two, it becomes a matter of preference. 

Bourbon has a sweet, oaky flavor. People love whiskey for its more complex taste. 

Some argue that the strict production regulations of bourbon make it a superior spirit.

While whiskey fans love the variety that comes with the beverage’s diverse range of flavors. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual palate to decide which reigns supreme.

Bourbon vs. Whiskey

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Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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