Bourbon Vs. Whisky: What Are The Differences?

Many people don’t quite understand what the difference between bourbon and whisky is. You may have heard the cliché that all bourbons are whisky, but not all whiskies can be called “bourbon” – but that doesn’t really clear things up, does it?

To find a clear answer to this conundrum, let’s take a closer look at both drinks and see what they’re all about.



Whiskey drinks

Whisky is a distilled alcoholic drink made by fermenting grain mash. Producers can use a variety of grains – including corn, rye, barley and wheat – which can be malted or not. Typically, the drink is aged in wooden barrels, most often made of white oak.

There are numerous classes and types of whisky worldwide with different traditions and regulations for each, but what they all have in common are grain fermentation, distillation, and the use of wooden casks for aging the beverage.

Also read the difference between Scotch and Whiskey.




If you’re not a connoisseur, you may not be able to detect much of a difference between whisky and bourbon when tasting the drinks – and guess what? You wouldn’t be 100% wrong for mistaking one for the other. This is because bourbon is actually a specific type of whisky, a member of a very big and happy family.

What makes a whisky “bourbon“? Bourbon is an American whisky made mostly out of corn and has its origins in Bourbon County, Kentucky (hence the name). Although originally, this drink variety was only made in this region, distilleries all over the USA have started to produce it.

However, for producers to be able to promote their product as “bourbon”, they must meet some strict manufacturing requirements, and this is why not all whiskeys can be called bourbons.

Many distilleries advertise even the use of special water filtered by limestone but note that this is not an official regulation for the drink to be called a bourbon, just something extra to add to the allure of some brands.


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The Differences between Bourbon and Whisky

So, now that we’ve established what both drinks are all about, let’s have a detailed look at exactly how bourbon and whisky differ: Have a look at the below Bourbon vs Whisky table:



  • Bourbon must be made in the USA.
  • Whisky is made worldwide.
  • Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn.
  • Whisky can be made from a mix of grains, not necessarily having corn as its major ingredient. Rye whisky, for instance, consists of 51 percent rye.
  • It must be distilled at maximum 160 proof.
  • Some whiskies can be distilled to up to 190 proof.
  • New, charred barrels made out of oak must be used to be able to call the drink a “bourbon”.
  • Whisky casks do usually need to be oak, but not necessarily charred or new.
  • Bourbon cannot contain added flavours, colouring or any other additives.
  • Some whiskies can contain natural flavours, including caramel, honey or even peppers and other spices!


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