Difference Wiki

Whiskey vs. Bourbon: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 7, 2023
Whiskey is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash, aged in wooden casks, whereas bourbon, a type of whiskey, must be made in the U.S. from at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels.

Key Differences

Whiskey serves as an overarching term for a variety of spirits that encompass numerous types and origins, providing a canvas that artists of distillation paint upon globally. In contrast, bourbon carries a uniquely American identity, with strict legal requirements defining its production, character, and even geographical origins, ensuring a spirit distinct from other types of whiskey.
A fundamental principle of whiskey is its derivation from fermented grain mash, then aging in wooden casks, a method employed in countries like Scotland, Ireland, and Canada. Contrastingly, bourbon adheres to more specific regulations, like originating in the United States, and being produced from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, lending it a characteristically sweet and full-bodied flavor.
Whiskey, as a broader category, entails various styles such as Scotch, Irish, and Rye, each exhibiting unique characteristics influenced by regional practices and laws. On the other hand, bourbon’s distinctiveness is accentuated by its maturation in new, charred oak barrels, unlike many whiskeys which might be aged in reused barrels, imparting it with a recognizable richness and depth.
A universe in itself, whiskey encompasses a myriad of flavor profiles, aging processes, and mash bills, each variant from single malts to blends offering diverse experiences to savor. Whereas bourbon, with its caramel and vanilla notes resultant of the new charred oak aging, presents a consistent yet varied palette within its defined boundaries, ensuring a reliably robust and sweet sip.
Whiskey production spans across the globe, each country or region fostering unique expressions and traditions, creating a tapestry of spirits varying in taste, texture, and aroma. Bourbon, however, despite its narrower geographic and production scope, invites a journey through subtle variations - exploring different brands provides insight into the finesse and nuances practiced within its defined framework.

Comparison Chart


A spirit distilled from fermented grain mash.
A type of whiskey with specific U.S. production regulations.

Grain Mash

Can be made from a variety of grains.
Must be made from at least 51% corn.

Aging Barrels

Can be aged in new or used barrels.
Must be aged in new charred oak barrels.

Geographic Production

Produced globally.
Must be produced in the United States.

Flavor Notes

A wide range depending on type and region.
Characteristically sweet, with notes of vanilla and caramel.

Whiskey and Bourbon Definitions


The aging process of whiskey occurs in wooden casks.
The character of whiskey is significantly influenced by its time spent maturing in barrels.


Bourbon is a type of American whiskey with a mash bill containing at least 51% corn.
The sweetness in bourbon is often attributed to its corn-dominant mash bill.


Whiskey encompasses various styles, like Scotch and Rye, each with unique characteristics.
Tasting different kinds of whiskey reveals the depth and variety within this spirit category.


Bourbon, despite its strict production regulations, can vary in flavor profiles.
While enjoying various bourbons, one can explore a spectrum from subtly sweet to robustly rich.


Whiskey production is a craft practiced in numerous countries around the world.
From Ireland to Japan, whiskey is celebrated and crafted with regional twists.


The majority of bourbon is produced in Kentucky, but it can be made anywhere in the U.S.
While Kentucky is renowned for bourbon, exceptional bottles can be found nationwide.


Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.
Whiskey, with its myriad of types and flavors, has a global appeal.


This whiskey variant must be aged in new charred oak barrels.
The new charred oak barrels impart a signature caramel color and flavor to bourbon.


Whiskey can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as a key ingredient in cocktails.
A classic Old Fashioned cocktail beautifully highlights the complexities of whiskey.


Bourbon often features flavor notes of vanilla, caramel, and sometimes, a smoky char.
The vanilla and caramel undertones make bourbon a beloved base in numerous cocktails.


An alcoholic liquor distilled from grain, such as corn, rye, or barley, and containing approximately 40 to 50 percent ethyl alcohol by volume.


A political reactionary, especially a conservative Democrat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


A drink of such liquor.


A whiskey distilled from a fermented mash containing not less than 51 percent corn in addition to malt and rye.


Is all whiskey bourbon?

No, while all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon due to bourbon’s specific production criteria.

Is whiskey always aged for many years?

No, whiskeys vary in age, and some may be relatively young.

Can whiskey be made from any grain?

Yes, whiskey can be made from various grains, each type influencing the flavor.

What flavors are typical in bourbon?

Bourbon often showcases sweet notes of vanilla and caramel, sometimes with a smoky finish.

Are bourbon and Tennessee whiskey the same?

No, while similar, Tennessee whiskey undergoes additional filtering, known as the Lincoln County Process.

What is single malt whiskey?

Single malt whiskey is made from malted barley and produced at a single distillery.

What cocktails commonly use whiskey?

Whiskey is used in numerous cocktails, like the Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan.

Are there whiskey and bourbon clubs or subscriptions?

Yes, numerous clubs and subscriptions offer curated selections of whiskey and bourbon for enthusiasts.

Can bourbon be made outside of the United States?

No, to be legally considered bourbon, it must be made in the United States.

Why does bourbon often have a sweeter taste?

The high corn content in its mash bill typically imparts a sweeter flavor to bourbon.

What is cask strength whiskey?

Cask strength whiskey is bottled directly from the cask and is typically higher in alcohol content.

What is the difference between whiskey and whisky?

The spelling varies: "whiskey" is used in the U.S. and Ireland, while "whisky" is used in Canada and Scotland.

Can whiskey and bourbon be enjoyed with food pairings?

Absolutely, pairing whiskey and bourbon with complementary flavors can enhance the dining experience.

Can I cook with whiskey and bourbon?

Yes, both whiskey and bourbon can be used to enhance various dishes and desserts.

How should I store bourbon?

Bourbon should be stored upright, away from direct sunlight, and at a consistent temperature.

Is ice in whiskey considered acceptable?

Yes, while purists might prefer it neat, enjoying whiskey on the rocks is common.

How can I learn more about whiskey varieties?

Whiskey tasting events or visiting distilleries can enhance your knowledge and appreciation.

How is the age of bourbon determined?

The age statement on bourbon reflects the youngest whiskey in the bottle.

Is bourbon suitable for aging at home?

Once bottled, bourbon does not age, so it's best enjoyed rather than stored for future use.

Is there a minimum aging period for bourbon?

Legally, no, but to be considered straight bourbon, it must be aged for at least two years.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons