Bourbon vs Whiskey: What's the Difference?

Is this whiskey or bourbon?

Is this whiskey or bourbon?

Besides the fact that they taste quite different, a lot of people seem to be confused when it comes to the differences between whiskey and bourbon. I have heard whiskey called bourbon and, more commonly, bourbon called whiskey. The fact of the matter is that all bourbon is classified as whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

Setting taste aside, let's explore the differences between the two.

Differences Between Whiskey and Bourbon


Can be made anywhere in the world

Must be made in the United States

Must be produced at less than 190 proof (95% abv)

Must be produced at 160 proof (80% abv) or less

Can be made with any combination of grains

Grain mixture must contain at least 51% corn

Must be stored in oak wood containers

Must be stored in new charred oak containers

Must be bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) or less

Must be bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) or above

More About Whiskey and Bourbon

  • When whiskey is made in Scotland or Ireland, two of the most famous whiskey-producing nations on the planet, it is called scotch.
  • Bourbon was recognised by the United States Congress as a "distinctive product of the United States" on May 4, 1964.
  • In order to carry the name bourbon, a set of rigid requirements must be met, which were set in place in the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 CFR 5).
  • Straight bourbon refers to bourbon which has been aged for longer than two years. (Most, if not all, bourbon available for purchase has been aged for four years or more and is, therefore, straight bourbon whiskey. It is not required to be labeled as straight, though.)

The Curious Case of Jack Daniels

Like many people out there, I always thought that Jack Daniels was a bourbon since it is a whiskey made in the United States that meets bourbon requirements. But, like many people, I was wrong.

Jack Daniels is not bourbon, because it is in a class of its own: Tennessee Whiskey.

It should come as no surprise that Tennessee Whiskey must be produced in the state of Tennessee. It is also always filtered through sugar maple charcoal. Tennessee whiskey was officially recognised as its own form of whiskey in 1941.

Drink Responsibly!

Now that you know the difference between whiskey and bourbon, you can correct your friends when they try to tell you Jack Daniels is bourbon. Just don't drink so much of your preferred beverage that you are unable to share the interesting information you learned here.

As always, drink responsibly and in moderation. Never drink and drive.


dave on December 10, 2014:

Except for scotch its spelled whisky without the e. The irish spell it with the e as whiskey.

wakeupdrunk on August 19, 2013:

Whisky is Scotch, Welsh, Chinese, and Japanese.

Whiskey is American, Irish.

Try to dispute that with a whisk(e)y-filled bloke and u'll probably

need surgery; even if the Chinese sometimes call theirs "whiskey".

Imagine 9/11 2001 with charter flights of lawyers, instead.

David on July 12, 2013:

I seem to still be missing the difference. I believe JD meets all the requirements of Bourbon, plus is charcoal filtered to make it whiskey.

drew on April 14, 2013:

not only does bourbon have to be made in the USA, but traditionally, it also has to be made it Kentucky!

A R on February 19, 2012:

Quite interesting & useful

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