Introduction: Starting with the Basics
As you take a trip through the world of spirits and liquors, you might run into a bit of confusion when it comes to understanding the difference between bourbon and whiskey. After all, they seem quite alike, don’t they? Well, despite the similarity in taste and appearance, these two delightful drinks have distinct characteristics that set them apart.
Understanding Whiskey: Origins and Variations
First up, let’s talk about whiskey (or whisky, if we’re talking about Scotch). A cornucopia of flavors, whiskey brings you expressions from various parts of the world, each carrying its unique taste and pedigree. This wide range of whiskeys includes names like Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, and of course, our contender for today, Bourbon.
Whiskey itself is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. The grains used for different types of whiskeys include barley, corn, rye, and wheat. This versatile spirit is then aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak. The flavors of whiskey can be extraordinarily diverse, depending on factors such as the grain used, distillation process, length and method of aging, and the use of blending.
The Great Whiskey Divide: Scotch and Irish
A classic example of the whiskey variety is the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scotch. Scotch, derived from malted barley, hails from Scotland and must age for at least three years. On the other hand, Irish Whiskey, largely produced from yeast-fermented grain mash, must go through a similar aging process but retains a light and smooth flavor in contrast to the smoky, earthy tones found in Scotch.
What is Bourbon?
Having gotten to grips with the whiskey landscape, let’s delve into bourbon. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that follows a precise set of U.S. regulations to earn its name. For all those whiskey fans, who tout, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon”- well, they’re right!
To qualify as bourbon, the spirit has to meet specific criteria: it must be produced in the United States, made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, and aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Bourbon is distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof, and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof. Importantly, bourbon must be bottled at 80 proof or more, and cannot contain any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives.
The Charm of the South: Kentucky Bourbon
While Bourbon production is not explicitly geographic-bound by law (aside from being made in the USA), an overwhelming share of bourbons easily trace their roots back to the South, particularly Kentucky. Kentucky bourbon has made such a worldwide influence that it garnered its designation of origin status. Thought of by many as the quintessential bourbon experience, Kentucky bourbon offers rich flavors, carrying notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel.
Bourbon vs. Whiskey: Main Differences
In the grand scheme of things, bourbon is under the whiskey umbrella, but its specific production rules make it stand out from other types of whiskey.
While whiskey can vary greatly in flavor, composition, and production methods, bourbon has a more strict and standardized production process, which leads to a unique and consistent flavor profile.
The prominence of corn in the grain mixture gives bourbon its characteristic sweet taste, while the requirement for new charred-oak barrels results in a full-bodied vanilla and caramel flavor, distinct from other types of whiskey.
Conclusion: What’s in a Name?
Thus, while every bourbon is a whiskey, not every whiskey is a bourbon. The usage of the term can tell you quite a lot about the distillation process and origin of the spirit. Choosing between them isn’t a matter of superiority; instead, it’s about personal preference. Whether you enjoy the sweet, full-bodied bourbon or the variety of notes you can discover in different whiskeys, the right choice is the one you enjoy most.