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Distillery & Tasting Room Articles Distillery Blog Education Articles Spirits Articles | 04/22/19

What’s the Difference Between Whiskey and Bourbon?


All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are common misconceptions & myths regarding the difference between whiskey & bourbon, and we wanted to address them here to help clear the air. The most common question we receive in the tasting room is:

“Doesn’t bourbon have to be made in Kentucky?” The short answer, “No”

Before we get through the myths & misconceptions, here are the five criteria that the United States TTB (Trade & Tax Bureau) requires before you can call your whiskey “bourbon whiskey”:
1- Made in the United States
2- Made of at least 51% corn
3- Distilled no higher than 160 proof
4- Barreled no higher than 125 proof
5- Aged in new charred oak barrels

Make sense? Now that we have the criteria established, below are the most common myths and misconceptions that exist about bourbon whiskey, in no particular order.

MYTH: All bourbon has to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky

While it is true that an estimated 95% of bourbon is indeed produced in KY, the above criteria states that bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States.

No one outside of the United States can produce bourbon whiskey since it is a protected class just as Tequila (Mexico), Champagne (France), and Swiss cheese (Switzerland) are protected.

MYTH: The more you age bourbon, the better it gets

There are famous well-aged bourbons out there that have caused consumers to believe that the older the bourbon the better it is. Aging is only part of the process, and some bourbons take on too much of the char & oak flavors the longer they sit so it’s up to the distiller to determine when to pull their bourbon from barrels.

MYTH: There is only one way to drink bourbon

Don’t let anyone tell you how to drink your bourbon. Some like it neat, some bourbons need a little water to open them up, and some like a block of ice to chill down a glass of bourbon. We also love classic bourbon cocktails like the Whiskey Sour & Mint Julep.

Bottom line, there’s no right or wrong way to drink bourbon so enjoy it your way and ignore the snobs!

MYTH: Bourbon continues to age in the bottle

Once bourbon is bottled it no longer ages. The process of aging occurs by the chemical reactions taking place inside the barrels as the bourbon interacts with the charred oak.

Click here for an easy-to-understand diagram and explanation of the barrel aging process.

MYTH: Only “Moonshiners” make moonshine

All bourbons begin as a clear liquid (aka “moonshine”) when they come off of the still. The color comes from its interaction with the charred oak barrels during the aging process.

We have a bottle of our moonshine in the tasting room for you to try if you are interested! Compare it with our aged bourbon and you’ll understand the need to patiently wait for the aging process to complete.

MYTH: Bourbon must be aged for at least 2 years

The criteria for a bourbon is that it is “aged” in new oak barrels. A distiller could age bourbon for 15 seconds in new oak barrels and it would pass the requirement. No one would do that since you cannot reuse any barrels to age another bourbon, but it can be done.

This confusion mostly likely comes from the term “Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” In order to call any bourbon “straight” the bourbon must be aged for at least 2 years.

Did we miss anything? Let us know if you have any other questions regarding bourbon whiskey and we’ll be happy to help!



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