How can this sentence make sense? All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. If this sounds like gibberish to you, then buckle up and get to reading, because if there’s one thing every man should know, it’s the difference between whiskey and bourbon.

Next time you’re out enjoying your favorite strong drink, impress your friends or date with your knowledge.

You might think the difference between these two is just in the name, and what’s in a name? But actually, the difference between whiskey and bourbon is stipulated by real, actual law. Bourbon regulations have been strict since the 1800s when distillers were diluting and changing the whiskeys and causing harm and cheating their customers.

The Bottle in Bond Act of 1897 set strict regulations to ensure the process is done correctly. Today, bourbon is an authentic American drink, an iconic element of the bar scene.


Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon

Whiskey is distilled from a mix of fermented grains, commonly corn, barley, rye, and wheat. This combination is called a mash bill by distillers. The ratio of grains that makes up this combo is what makes the difference between a whiskey and bourbon.


Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon

For something to be called bourbon, the rule is that the mash bill must be made up of no less than 51% corn. The amount that’s wheat or rye is what differentiates between wheat bourbon and rye bourbon. Wheated bourbon is known for a mellower, softer taste, while rye bourbon has more of a spice element.

The mash has to be distilled at 160 proof or less and added to the barrel at 125 proof or less. The barrel can’t be just any old barrel, either. Law stipulates that for the drink to be called bourbon, the barrel has to be charred white oak that’s brand new.

The final requirement for the drink to be called bourbon is that it must be made in the US. The name bourbon came from an area of Kentucky called Old Bourbon (today called Bourbon County), which is no surprise because a great deal of the bourbon sold around the world comes out of the bluegrass state.

Tennessee Whiskey

Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon

Now you’ve got the difference between bourbon and whiskey, where the heck does Tennessee whiskey fit in? For it to be called Tennessee whiskey, it must be produced from within Tennessee and also has to be filtered with sugar-maple charcoal. It’s this factor that gives Tennessee whiskey its famous smoothness.

With this information, get the whiskey-bourbon question right at trivia night, or impress your conversation partner with what really is the difference between whiskey and bourbon. Because when it all boils down, the answer to that question is essentially this: the law is what differentiates between whiskey and bourbon.