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Sarah Scrimshire

Bourbon vs. Whiskey and the Differences- Plus 5 Easy Ways to Enjoy it!

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bourbon vs. whiskey

Bourbon vs. Whiskey- this blog will take you through what the differences between the two and how you can decipher your next pour. This is essential to the “every square is a rectangle because all four angles are right angles, but not all squares are rectangles because the sides have to be he same length. Did his take you back to middle school? Haha!

We get TONS of questions and comments on our ads saying that bourbon is not whiskey, whiskey can not be considered a bourbon, and so on. Well, it is a tricky subject between bourbon vs. whiskey, but, I will help break it down for you so it is easier to understand!

What is Bourbon?

To better understand bourbon vs. whiskey, let’s dive into what bourbon is, first! Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is primarily made from corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. It has a distinct flavor profile characterized by notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak, and is often associated with the state of Kentucky in the United States.

Bourbon is primarily associated with the United States, specifically with the state of Kentucky. While it can be produced anywhere in the U.S., Kentucky has a long history of bourbon production and is often considered the heart of bourbon country.

Key Ingredients
  1. Ingredients: Bourbon must be made from a mash bill that consists of at least 51% corn. The remaining portion typically includes other grains like rye, barley, or wheat.
  2. Aging: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels, which contributes to its color, flavor, and character. There is no minimum aging requirement to be legally called bourbon, but to be labeled as “straight” bourbon, it must be aged for at least two years.
  3. Proof and Distillation: Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
  4. Geographical Origin: While bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, it is most closely associated with Kentucky. The state’s limestone-rich water and climate are believed to contribute to the unique characteristics of bourbon.
  5. Flavor Profile: Bourbon typically exhibits a range of flavors including caramel, vanilla, oak, spice, and sometimes fruity or nutty notes. The charred oak barrels impart color, aroma, and taste as the whiskey ages.
  6. No Additives: By law, bourbon must not contain any additives except water to reduce the proof before bottling.
  7. Color: Bourbon often has a rich amber or copper color, derived from its interaction with the charred oak barrels during aging.
  8. Cask Strength and Bottling: Bourbon can be bottled at various proofs, including cask strength (undiluted from the barrel) or at a specific bottling proof, which can influence the intensity of flavors and alcohol content.

What is Whiskey?

Up next in determining bourbon vs. whiskey is to understand bourbon. Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grains, typically including barley, corn, rye, or wheat. It is aged in wooden casks, often oak barrels, which gives it its distinct flavor and color. Whiskey is enjoyed in various styles around the world, with different countries having their own traditions and regulations for production.

Whiskey has historical origins in several countries, and different types of whiskey are associated with specific regions. Some of the most notable whiskey-producing countries include:

  1. Scotland: Known for Scotch whisky (spelled without the “e”), Scotland is famous for its single malt and blended Scotch whiskies, which are often characterized by smoky and peaty flavors.
  2. Ireland: Irish whiskey is known for its smooth and lighter taste. It’s typically triple-distilled and includes both blended and single malt varieties.
  3. United States: The U.S. produces various types of whiskey, including bourbon (primarily associated with Kentucky), Tennessee whiskey (similar to bourbon but with a charcoal filtering process known as the Lincoln County Process), and rye whiskey.
  4. Canada: Canadian whisky (spelled without the “e”) is often referred to as “rye” in Canada, even though it may not always contain a significant amount of rye grain. It’s generally lighter and smoother compared to other types of whiskey.
  5. Japan: Japanese whisky has gained international acclaim for its craftsmanship and quality. It often displays a balance of traditional Scottish techniques and unique Japanese influences.
  6. Other countries: Whiskey is also produced in countries like India and Taiwan, where distilleries have gained recognition for their distinctive styles.

Each of these regions has its own production methods, regulations, and flavor profiles, contributing to the diversity of whiskey varieties enjoyed worldwide.

Another whiskey reference that I find confusing is the spelling, so let’s break that down! The spelling difference between “whisky” and “whiskey” is primarily based on the geographical origin of the spirit:

  1. Whisky (without the “e”): This spelling is commonly used for Scotch whisky and whiskies from other countries such as Canada, Japan, and some other regions. It is the preferred spelling in Scotland and most other whisky-producing countries.
  2. Whiskey (with the “e”): This spelling is primarily used for American and Irish whiskey. It’s important to note that “whiskey” is the standard spelling in the United States and Ireland.

The historical reasons for the spelling variations are not entirely clear, but it is thought to have originated from linguistic and cultural differences. The use of “whisky” without the “e” is believed to reflect the Scottish and Canadian traditions, while “whiskey” with the “e” is associated with the American and Irish traditions.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when labeling and branding became more prominent, these spellings became standardized and associated with their respective regions. Today, the spelling difference is used as a quick way to distinguish the origin of the whisky/whiskey, although there can be exceptions and variations based on individual brand preferences or marketing choices. Up next, bourbon vs. whiskey!

Bourbon vs. Whiskey- How is Bourbon a Whiskey?

So, yes, bourbon is a type of whiskey. It is a specific style of American whiskey that is known for its distinctive characteristics and production requirements. To be legally considered bourbon, a whiskey must meet certain criteria. Keep reading below to visualize bourbon vs. whiskey in the easiest way!

 Ingredients: Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, with the remaining portion typically made up of other grains such as barley, rye, or wheat.

 Distillation: The distillate must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).

 New Charred Oak Barrels: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels. This means that each barrel can only be used once for aging bourbon. A key component in bourbon vs. whiskey!

 Aging: Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years. If it is labeled as “straight” bourbon, it must be aged for at least two years. However, many bourbons are aged for longer periods.

 No Additives: Bourbon must not contain any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives.

 Location: While bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, it is closely associated with the state of Kentucky and is often referred to as “Kentucky bourbon.”

 Bourbon is known for its sweet and full-bodied flavor profile, often featuring notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes spice. It is a popular and well-loved type of whiskey both in the United States and around the world.

Rye? Scotch? What are those?

Some other categories of whiskey are rye and scotch! Let’s find out what those are, too!

Rye can refer to both a type of grain and a type of whiskey:

  1. Rye as a Grain: Rye is a cereal grain that is a member of the wheat family. It has been used for centuries as a food source and for making various products, including bread, crackers, and alcoholic beverages. Rye grain is known for its distinctive flavor and is often used in baking due to its slightly nutty and earthy taste.
  2. Rye Whiskey: Rye whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage that is primarily made from rye grain. It is one of the main categories of American whiskey, along with bourbon and corn whiskey. Rye whiskey has a distinct flavor profile, often characterized by spicy, peppery, and fruity notes. It was historically a popular choice in the United States before the Prohibition era, and it has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

Rye whiskey can vary in its composition, with some versions containing a high percentage of rye grain in the mash bill, while others might include a combination of rye, corn, and other grains. The specific regulations and requirements for labeling a whiskey as “rye” can vary depending on the country of production.

How to Enjoy your Whiskey!

There are tons of ways to enjoy your bourbon vs. whiskey!

Neat- The bourbon is served directly from the bottle to the glass without any modifications. This allows you to fully appreciate the characteristics and nuances of the bourbon as it was intended by the distiller.

With Water- Start by adding a small amount of bourbon to the glass, followed by a few drops of water. Gently swirl the mixture to allow the water and whiskey to interact. Take a moment to observe any changes in aroma and appearance. When sipping, let the bourbon coat your palate and note any flavor differences and nuances brought out by the water. Feel free to experiment with the amount of water you add until you find your preferred balance.

On the Rocks- When you order bourbon “on the rocks,” it means that the whiskey is poured over ice cubes in a glass. This method provides a chilled and slightly diluted version of the bourbon, which can mellow out some of the alcohol’s intensity and make it more refreshing.

In Cocktails- Bourbon’s versatility makes it a great base for creating a wide range of cocktails to suit different occasions and tastes.

Smoked- Hmmm, might be our favorite way! Smoke changes the levels of smoke in a cocktail as well as adding flavors with different dusts! Cinnamon-smoked bourbon neat is amazing!

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