What Is the Difference Between Bourbon & Whiskey?

Every bourbon is a whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. To gain the title of bourbon, whiskey must be processed to exacting specifications. Bourbon is an alcoholic spirit that is strictly American. While whiskey can be and is made in other countries, a true bourbon can only be made in the U.S. to carry the name and label.


  • Whiskey has been made from grains in many countries for centuries. Irish and Scotch whiskey are two of the best known. Whiskey making was brought to the United States by immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. Bourbon, on the other hand, by a 1964 resolution from Congress, is distinctly a U.S. product. It was first made sometime in the late 1700s. It gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it is believed that bourbon whiskey was first brewed.


  • Whiskey can be made from many types of grain but primarily corn. Rye is another popular whiskey main ingredient. Many whiskeys use a blend of grains. Not all whiskeys have to be aged. Bourbon, by definition, must contain at least 51 percent corn and be no more than 80 percent alcohol. There is straight bourbon, which has been aged for a minimum of 2 years, and specialized bourbons that have been aged for 20 years or longer.


  • Kentucky is still the largest producer of bourbon, although a few other states do have their own distilleries. Whiskey is produced all over the world and each country has its own standards for distilling.


  • Corn whiskey is the only whiskey that does not have to be aged. Rye or bourbon whiskey must be aged in charred oak barrels, and these barrels must be new. After a minimum aging time of 2 years, the identification label of “straight” can be added to the name. Bourbon has a specialized list that determines how it is processed and distilled. Bourbon if aged less than 4 years must be labeled with the length of age; whiskey does not carry this requirement. For all types of whiskey, the longer it ages the smoother the taste will be.


  • Tennessee whiskey is similar to bourbon in many ways. It, too, has a distinctive process, which includes filtering though sugar maple charcoal to give it a unique taste. The brand Jack Daniels is the best-known Tennessee whiskey.


  • As with any alcoholic spirit, both bourbon and straight whiskey can impair how your mind and body function. Always drink responsibly and never get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you’ve been drinking. Keep all alcohol away from children.