Sipping your way through the vast world of whiskey can be overwhelming to the novice whiskey drinker. From blended, to Scotch, to bourbon, there's a wide variety of spirits derived from the standard whiskey, which is made from the distillation of grains such as barley, wheat, rye, and corn.
Known for its rich, smoky flavor, a standard whiskey tastes notably different than its sweet and aromatic cousin, bourbon, even though they both have the same foundation of ingredients. So, if they are made from the same stuff, what exactly makes them different from each other? Aside from the proportion of ingredients used, there are a few key differences between whiskey and bourbon that every whiskey drinker should know.
What Is Whiskey?
There's an actual legal definition: a spirit is considered "whiskey" when it is created from a "fermented mash of grain produced at less than 190° proof," and stored in oak containers. A standard whiskey does not have regulations on where it can be made and, as long as the mash to create it contains rye, wheat, barley, and corn. The difference between a standard whiskey and bourbon lies in how much of each ingredient is used to create the mash, and the location of where it's produced.
What Is Bourbon?
According to the same legal definition for whiskey, the fermented mash used to create bourbon must be "not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley respectively," and must be produced in the United States. While the majority of bourbon is created in Kentucky, it does not need to be produced in Kentucky to be considered bourbon. Additionally, bourbon must be produced at no greater than 160° proof and stored in "charred new oak containers." As opposed to standard whiskey's grainy, smoky flavor, bourbon's full-body flavor tastes of caramel, vanilla, and is significantly sweeter.
To make things simpler: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. While the two spirits share the same list of ingredients, their proportions and the location of production are the key factors that make whiskey and bourbon different. No matter which one you have in your glass, take a swig and enjoy the wonderful world of whiskey.