You’re not a fan of whiskey, so you never give bourbon a chance. Or maybe you love whiskey, but your taste buds despise the flavor of bourbon. Why is that? Isn’t bourbon just another type of whiskey? Yes, it is, but the difference in its composition makes all the difference. (And if you like both, then go for it!)

What’s the Difference?

The ingredients and process change from when you’re making various types of whiskey to when you’re specifically making bourbon whiskey. Distillers make whiskey with a mixture of grains that can include wheat, barley, rye and corn. They take this concoction and put it into a wooden barrel where it has the chance to get better with time (unlike your great uncle who drinks whiskey). You will find different varieties of whiskey, including Scotch from Scotland and other types made around the world.

So where does bourbon come in? Bourbon is an American version of whiskey. While it’s not the only type made in the nation, it is our favorite and the Congress even designated it as “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964. So bourbon still is whiskey, but it differs from other varieties. Its flavor comes from the 51 percent corn mixed with other grains included in its makeup, as well as the specific characteristics of the barrels it ages in: brand new barrels from charred oak, whereas other types of whiskey reuse barrels and don’t necessary stick to charred oak.

The other distinction is in the proof. During the distillation process, other types of whiskey have a max distillation of 190 proof, while bourbon’s max is 160 proof. No, that doesn’t mean you’re drinking 160 proof alcohol! The number is down to 125 proof when it goes into the barrel and 80 proof when it goes into the bottle.

Are There Different Types of Bourbon?

Bourbon makers have to follow strict guidelines by law to call their creation bourbon. Some aspects are the same with all types of bourbon. It only comes from America, so you’re being patriotic if you drink it (if you’re an American, that is). Also, you can tell all of your healthy friends (if you have any) that bourbon is natural, since it’s not allowed to include additives such as coloring or flavoring. That’s a plus because other types of whiskey often have additives included.

Nonetheless, there are some subtle variations between whiskey bourbon brands and styles. This type of whiskey doesn’t have to age for a certain length of time, but its makers have to state the aging duration on the label if it falls under four years. If its makers want to call their concoctions “straight bourbon,” they need to age it for two years or more.

“Bottled in bond” or “bonded” bourbon has further guidelines, which even involve the federal government! That’s right — the government keeps your bourbon in bonded warehouses and watches it for at least four years. That tradition started because distillers couldn’t handle their whiskey-making powers back in the 1800s. Connoisseurs consider this type of bourbon the best.

Why’s It Called Bourbon?

Just like Scotch whisky (the Scots don’t like the “e” in the word) hails from Scotland, Bourbon gets its name from its original region. In the beginning, distillers crafted this liquor in Bourbon County, Kentucky, or at least nearby. Its creation now goes far beyond that part of the country, but no matter where it’s made within the U.S. borders, it keeps its name as long as it follows the super special bourbon guidelines.

Interestingly, some types of whiskey could call themselves bourbon if they wanted to, but they choose not to. I guess they want to stand out from the crowd with their own distinctions. Jack Daniels is an example that follows bourbon guidelines but calls itself Tennessee whiskey.

If you’ve hesitated to try bourbon, don’t let your lack of love for other whiskeys keep you away from its unique taste. At least give it a sip to see how you like it (and to call yourself an American). Then leave a comment to let us know what you think. We also want to hear if bourbon is the love of your life!

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About The Author

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Passive Eater

I am quiet when I eat and loud when I write. On the streets and in the field calling it like I see it