Difference between Whiskey and Bourbon

Key Difference: Whiskey or whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from any form of fermented grain mash. Depending on the geographical region or type of whiskey that is being made, whiskey can be made from barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. They are often aged in charred barrels. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey and is primarily made from corn. The term Bourbon refers to whiskey that was created in the United States and is commonly associated with whiskey created in the Southern states, though it can also be used to refer to drinks created anywhere in the country where distilling is allowed.

Whiskey is one of the most popular drinks that are available in the market. They are available in many different types and flavors.  Bourbon is actually a type of whiskey but it must be produced in the United States to be known as Bourbon. It is a similar situation to Scotch. Hence, all bourbons are actually whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbons.

Whiskey or whisky is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from any form of fermented grain mash. Depending on the geographical region or type of whiskey that is being made, whiskey can be made from barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and corn. They are often aged in charred barrels. According to Wikipedia, the word ‘whiskey’ is the anglicisation of the Gaelic word ‘uisce|uisge’ meaning “water”. Distilled water was known in Latin as aqua vitae meaning “water of life”. The process of distillation can be dated back to the Greeks in Alexandria around the 3rd century AD; however they did not distill alcohol only spirits for fragrance purposes. The distillation process was passed down through the ages to Italy in the 13th century AD where the first distillation process of alcohol took place and alcohol was distilled from wine. The alcohol was originally used for medicinal purposes before it become consumable as a beverage. Whiskey first become popular as a beverage in Scotland before it spread to other neighboring countries.

There are various different types of whiskey and they differ in terms of base product, alcoholic content and quality. The main two types include malt whisky and grain whisky. Malt whisky is made primarily from malted barley, while grain whisky is made from any type of grain. These can further be classified under:

  • Single malt whisky: is whisky that is from a single distillery and is made from a mash that uses only one particular type of malted grain.
  • Blended malt whisky: is a blend of different malt whiskies from different distilleries.
  • Blended whiskies: is whiskey that is made from a mixture of malt and grain whiskies along with neutral spirits, caramel, and flavoring.
  • Cask strength: These whiskies are bottled directly from the cask and are undiluted or only a little diluted. These are rare whiskies.
  • Single cask: Each bottle of a single barrel whiskey is from an individual cask with the cask number labeled on the bottle.

Whiskies must be strengthened and aged in a barrel. They do not mature in the bottle, hence if a person keeps the whiskey bottle over a long time, it would not become any stronger in flavor or alcohol content. The alcohol content and mash content varies depending on the regulations of the geographic region. The whiskies require a charred oak barrel during the aging process, which provides them with the golden brown and amber coloring. Additional flavors and colors can be added to the alcohol depending on the regulations.

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey and is primarily made from corn. The term Bourbon refers to whiskey that was created in the United States and is commonly associated with whiskey created in the Southern states, though it can also be used to refer to drinks created anywhere in the country where distilling is allowed. On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized Bourbon as a "distinctive product of the United States.”  Bourbon got its name from an area which is now known as Old Bourbon, around Bourbon County, Kentucky. Bourbon has been in production since the 18th century.

Bourbon is made from 70% corn mash with wheat, rye or malted barley making up the rest. The process of making the drink includes grounding the grain and mixing it with water. The mash is then mixed with mash from previous distillation to ensure consistent pH level. The mixture is combined with yeast and left to ferment. The fermented mash is put through the process of distillation to produce a liquid between 65% and 80% alcohol. The alcohol is place in charred-oak barrels for aging until it reaches maturity. The matured alcohol is bottled at 80 US proof and 40% ABV. They can also be bottled at other proofs such as 86, 90, 94, 100, and 107.

The US regulations for labeling and advertising vary for products that are made for consumption in the United States and the products that are made for export. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption should be:

  • made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
  • aged in new, charred-oak barrels
  • distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume)
  • entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume)
  • be bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)

Bourbon has no specific required aging period and can be aged according to the distiller. However, bourbon that has been aged for a minimum of two years and does not have added coloring, flavoring and other spirits can also be called ‘straight’ bourbon. The standards state that “Bourbon that is labeled as straight that has been aged under four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging. Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (not counting the age of any added neutral grain spirits in a bourbon that is labeled as blended, as neutral-grain spirits are not considered whiskey under the regulations and are not required to be aged at all).” Bourbon that has been labeled as blended can contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits, but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon.

Image Courtesy: ampmdirect.co.uk, refinedvices.com

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