What is the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey

The main difference between bourbon and whiskey is that bourbon is a type of whiskey made from a grain mixture containing 51% corn, whereas whiskey is an alcoholic liquor made from fermented, mashed grains.  

Bourbon and whiskey are two alcoholic liquors made from fermented grain mash. Also, the two main types of whiskey are American whiskey and Irish whiskey. 

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Bourbon
– Definition, Facts, Features
2. What is Whiskey
– Definition, Facts, Features
3. Similarities Between Bourbon and Whiskey
– Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey
– Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ – Bourbon and Whiskey
– Answers to frequently asked questions

Key Terms  

Bourbon, Whiskey

Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey - Comparison Summary

What is Bourbon

Bourbon is a barrel-aged American whiskey primarily made up of corn. Also, it consists of 51-80% corn. The distillation process of the bourbon starts with the sour mash, which is the crushed grain going through the fermentation process. This mash is set out to sour overnight. Distillation of the bourbon occurs from fermented mash, yeast, and water. The minimum percentage of corn in bourbon is 51%. The average of corn in bourbon is 70%. Besides corn, rye, malted barley, and wheat in bourbon are flavor grains.

Compare Bourbon and Whiskey

Figure 1: Maturing Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey 

Furthermore, the length of bourbon aging is at least two years. Many premium bourbons on the market are aged for at least 5 to 12 years. Also, bourbon aging is done in brand-new barrels made of white oak and charred on the inside. Char levels vary from 1 to 4 depending on the brand. Nothing can be added except water for flavor, sweetness, or alter color when bottling. It is bottled between 80 and 125 proof. Water can be used to lower the evidence of the alcohol. 

Moreover, traditional bourbon includes Knob Creek, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, and Evan Williams. Rye is the second grain used in bourbon. It adds dry, peppery, and spicy flavors to the whiskey. Bourbon with high rye content includes Basil Hayden’s, Bulleit, Buffalo Trace, Eagle, Rare, George T. Stagg, Old Forester, Old Grand Dad, Woodford Reserve, and Four Roses Single Barrel. Further, wheat adds elegance and a soft, smooth character with hints of nuts and cinnamon. Bourbon with high wheat content includes Maker’s Mark, Old Fitzgerald, Old Rip Van Winkle, Rebel Yell, and WL Weller.         

What is Whiskey

Whiskey is another distilled liquor made from mashed and fermented cereal grains. Types of whiskey include Scotch, Irish, Canadian, and other whiskeys from the United States. The aging of whiskey is done in wooden containers of white oak. The earliest whiskey production is found in Scottish records dating from 1494. Due to the differences in the production method, the type and character of cereal grains, and the quality of water used.

Bourbon vs Whiskey

Figure 2: Whiskey 

Straight whiskey, blended whiskey, and neutral whiskey are the three types of whiskey. Straight whiskey is mixed or unmixed whiskey obtained from the same distillation period or distiller. Blended whiskey is a mixture of similar products made by different distillers in different periods of time. In comparison, neutral whisky has no distinctive flavor or characteristics. Blending whiskey may contain small quantities of other flavoring materials, such as sherry and fruit juice.   

Similarities Between Bourbon and Whiskey

  • Bourbon and whiskey are two alcoholic liquors made from mashed and fermented grains.
  • They are aged in different containers. 

Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey


Bourbon refers to a type of barrel-aged American whiskey made primarily from corn (maize), while whiskey refers to a liquor distilled from fermented wort (such as that obtained from rye, corn, or barley mash).

Type of Grain

Bourbon is made up of 51% of corn, while whiskey is categorized according to the ratio of grains. 

Aging Method

Bourbon is aged in charred white oak barrels, while whiskey is aged in hardwood barrels or wooden casks.

Alcohol Percentage

Bourbon must be distilled to more than 160 °C while whiskey must be distilled to more than 190 °C.

Alcohol by Volume

Bourbon contains 80% alcohol by volume, while whiskey contains 90% alcohol by volume.

FAQ: Bourbon and Whiskey

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon or a whiskey? 

Jack Daniel’s is the world’s best-selling American Whiskey. It has a spicy, smokey taste and a sweet finish. Technically, straight bourbon includes “Tennessee Whiskey.” 

Which is better for you, whiskey or bourbon? 

Drinking whiskey helps with weight loss. Compared to other alcohol choices, bourbon has a much lower calorie count, no carbs, little sugar, and only 100 calories.

Which is more expensive, bourbon or whiskey? 

Bourbon is more expensive and has more specifications, while whiskey is a more flexible term for various brown spirits.  


In brief, bourbon and whiskey are two alcoholic liquors that are made up of mashed and fermented grains. Bourbon is made up of 51% of corn. Also, it is aged in charred white oak barrels. In comparison, different types of whiskey are there depending on the ratio of grains. However, whiskey is aged in hardwood barrels or wooden casks. Therefore, the main difference between bourbon and whiskey is their content and method of aging.               

  1. Home of the distilleries of bourbon country. Bourbon Country. (n.d.).
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023c, December 5). Whiskey. Encyclopædia Britannica.
Image Courtesy:
  1. Beam Rack House” By Bbadgett – Own Work (CC-BY SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
  2. Whiskyhogmanay2010” By Guinnog – Own Work (CC-BY SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

Leave a Reply