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There Actually IS a Difference Between Your Favorite Bourbons and Whiskeys

But does it matter? Kinda.

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What's the Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon?

We’ve been covering some of our personal favorite bourbons here at Brostrick since 2015.  And while we personally may think we’re total experts on all things bourbon – we get a lot of questions from our readers (both newbies and elites) asking for us to explain if there really are any differences between bourbon and whiskey.  Are they technically the same?  Is one better than the other?  Does it matter?  

We decided to put together a quick: Bourbon vs. Whiskey 101.  Class is now in session.  For homework?  Drinking.


So what really is whiskey by definition?  Ahem, Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage prepared from the fermented grain mash, which may contain barley, corn, rye, and wheat.

The aging process usually takes place in wood barrels, and with the influence of the aging process, the spirit gains depth and character.

Whiskey is very much regulated and falls under different regulations in most countries which, in turn, may give a different taste and even called something different.


Bourbon, America’s Native Spirit, is a subset to whiskey, that  has rules that require tying itself and its identity very close to classic American tradition. In fact, it’s kind of the law.  So, per US law bourbon must:

  • Be made in the United States.
  • Contain at least 51% corn in the grain mash.
  • Be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.
  • Be bottled at 80 proof or more.

These rules are in place to ensure that bourbon always has a sweet, full-bodied profile with flavors like vanilla, oak, caramel, and a nice smokiness from the charred barrels.


Ok, so stay with us here. We’re going to get into some of the main differences and things to keep in mind. It may get a little confusing, but we’re all in this together. Ready?

While all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. Some of the major differences take place in the production process. This basically includes things like mash composition, aging, and geographical production.
While a bourbon should contain at least 51% corn, other whiskeys have a greater proportion of barley, rye, or wheat, and this can really change the flavor profile of the whiskey itself.

Most whiskeys, like a Scotch, are not required to be matured in completely new oak barrels; they can even be matured in used ones which could have had different spirits in them before or even wine! This can really have an effect on the flavor and overall complexity.

Although most of us think of bourbon being from Kentucky (and, trust us, so many are), bourbon is all American so it can be made just about anywhere around the country.


Hopefully by now we’re all on the same page and have learned a little something about our favorite spirits.  But, just to land this plane, let’s conclude with the five main differences to always keep in mind when thinking about the differences between whiskey and boubon.


Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn in its grain mash, while other whiskies may use more barley, rye, or wheat.


Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels; other whiskies like Scotch can be aged in used barrels which may have previously held other spirits or wines.


Bourbon must be made in the US, heavily associated with Kentucky, but can be produced anywhere in the country. Other whiskies like Scotch and Irish whiskey are tied to specific geographic regions outside the US.


Bourbon is distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at 80 proof or more. The proof regulations for other whiskies can vary.


Due to its high corn content and new charred oak aging process, bourbon generally has a sweeter and fuller body with distinct flavors like vanilla, caramel, and a smoky touch. Other whiskies, depending on their grain mash and aging process, can vary significantly in flavor, ranging from the peaty and smoky Scotch to the smooth and mild Irish whiskey.


Bourbon has specific legal requirements as defined by US law, including its production location and ingredients. Other whiskeys have their own sets of legal definitions that differ by country, like Scotch whiskey, which must be made in Scotland and adhere to specific Scottish legal standards.