I was wondering if anybody could give me the differences between a whiskey and bourbon, as I was in a conversation the other day and we were talking about Jack Daniels.

It is a bourbon but a lot of people still call it a whiskey. We got into a lot of different discussions about it, such as where it's made (USA vs. UK) and what goes into it (different barley) but we couldn't all agree on one reason.

So can anybody tell me what the difference between these drinks is?

  • 1
    Jack Daniels isn't a bourbon. It is a Tennessee Whiskey. Close to bourbon but a little different. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 18:53
  • ps don't forget WHISKEY and WHISKY 1st being Ireland(My great country), USA, Japan (I think) all spell it with an E the rest spell it without
    – damiend92
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:05

6 Answers 6


Bourbon is a type of whiskey, whereas not all whiskies are bourbons!

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it originated. Bourbon tends to be amber-colored, and a little sweeter and heavier in texture than other whiskeys.

What make a bourbon a bourbon and not just an ordinary whiskey? The following is from Men's Journal: What, Exactly, Is the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey?

The most popular form of American whiskey is bourbon, which has its own specific definition.

"Bourbon needs to be produced in America and made from 51 percent corn, and whisky does not," says Maker's Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis. Bourbon also needs to be stored in new charred-oak barrels, whereas whiskey barrels do need to be oak but not new or charred. "Lastly, to be called bourbon, the liquid needs to be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125." For other whiskies the liquid must be distilled to no more than 190 proof. David notes that this isn't just common practice — "it's actual bourbon law."

What Makes a Bourbon: A Cheat Sheet

•Must be made in the United States.

•Must contain 51 percent corn.

•Must be aged in new oak charred barrels.

•Must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125 proof.

•Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.

•Must not contain any added flavoring, coloring or other additives.

The following is taken from Bourbon vs. Whiskey:

Somewhat like champagne isn't champagne unless it's made in Champagne, France, Bourbon is not actually "Bourbon" if it is made outside the USA, even though other whiskeys may adhere to the same recipe and distillation guidelines.

Tennessee Whiskey

The legal requirements for whiskey to be called Tennessee Whiskey are that the whiskey should be:

-distilled in Tennessee

-made from at least 51% corn

-filtered through maple charcoal, and

-aged in new, charred oak barrels.

This is the process by which Jack Daniel's is manufactured. The company is the largest whiskey producer in Tennessee and wields an outsize influence on liquor laws in the state; they lobbied the state legislature to create such stringent requirements for labeling Tennessee Whiskey. Other whiskey producers in the state, including UK-based Diageo that owns Tennessee's No. 2 whiskey distiller George Dickel, oppose these criteria and are lobbying to have them loosened.

Some consider Tennessee Whiskey a Bourbon, while most do not. The fact remains that both Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniel's are filtered through maple charcoal making them a different product.


What is scotch?

The main difference between scotch and whisky is geographic, but also ingredients and spellings. Scotch is whisky made in Scotland, while bourbon is whiskey made in the U.S.A, generally Kentucky. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish whiskey (yep, they spell it differently for a little colour).

How long should Scotch Whisky be aged?

It is not possible to lay down any precise age as being the best for a particular whisky. Generally speaking, Malt Whiskies require longer to mature fully than Grain Whiskies. UK and EU law insist that Scotch Whisky should be at least three years old. However, it is the practice of the trade to mature for substantially longer than the legal minimum.

What is rye?

Rye whisky, like its name suggests, is a whiskey that is distilled from at least 51% rye. What is rye? Rye is a type of grass that is a member of the wheat tribe and closely related to barley.

Canadian whisky is simply a rye whisky.

  • I like the completeness of including Tennessee Whiskey; might it also be relevant to define "Scotch"?
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 17:53
  • 1
    My wife, being from Ireland, tells me that you can only have the "e" in "whiskey" if it's Irish Whiskey. Everything else is "whisky".
    – coblr
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 21:18
  • To expand on your point on Scotch - Scottish Whisky (spelt without the 'e') must be aged for at least 8 years before barreling. Irish Whiskey (with the 'e') can be shoved into a bottle pretty much immediately. Commented May 24, 2016 at 6:25
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    @AaronLavers three years - "UK and EU law insist that Scotch Whisky should be at least three years old". Commented May 24, 2016 at 7:46
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    @AaronLavers 8 years is the minimum age that scotch may be labelled with. That is, if there is any whisky in the blend less than 8 years old, you can't label the bottle with an age. Another rule is that the age on the bottle is that of the youngest whisky in the blend. My understanding is that these laws were created because Scotch whisky had a really bad reputation at one time.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 14:30


The differences between those drinks ("made for U.S. consumption"), and the difference between whiskey and bourbon are two separate questions (the former has been well answered).

Beverage manufacturers can hem and haw all they want about the nomenclature of their products, but that does not change the dictionary's definitions of the words:

whiskey : a spirit distilled from malted grain, especially barley or rye.
early 18th century: abbreviation of obsolete whiskybae, variant of usquebaugh

bourbon : a straight whiskey distilled from a mash having at least 51 percent corn in addition to malt and rye.
mid 19th century: named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it was first made.


Wikipedia is a great resource.

The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption[18] must be:

  • Produced in the United States[19]
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn[20]
  • Aged in new, charred oak barrels[20]
  • Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume)[20]
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume)[20]
  • Bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)[21]

Jack Daniel's

The product meets the regulatory criteria for classification as a straight bourbon, though the company disavows this classification and markets it simply as Tennessee whiskey rather than as Tennessee bourbon.

  • To be called a whisky, doesn't there have to be at least two distillations. Bourbon tends to only have one.
    – Beerhunter
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 22:14
  • 1
    @Beerhunter To be whisky it needs to be a high proof spirit, from distillation (not freezing), made from grain or a psudo-grain (e.g., buck wheat) If you use a pot still (e.g., scotch) you need at least two distillations to get the required proof. If you use a continuous/column still you only need one distillation to get the required proof. Bourbon is often distilled in a continuous/column still. Make sense? Commented May 23, 2016 at 22:47

Bourbon is not different from whiskey...it is to be understood that "bourbon" is a type of whiskey which is distilled in America (USA) this is the answer in laymen language... Try to understand the idea that "scotch" is also a whiskey which is distilled in scotland... So be it scotch, bourbon, rye they all are whiskey but the difference lies in their constituent ingredient (barley, corn)...blended or single malted... Origin place, taste and texture anf lastly the alcohol content... Asking the difference between "bourbon and whiskey" is just like asking the difference between "BMW and a CAR" I hope you get the idea..


To be considered a Kentucky Straight Bourbon it must be made in Bourbon County Kentucky. All others are a Whiskey.

  • Welcome to the site, and thank you for contributing this information. Could you edit to say how you know this? Our users find answers with sources to be more helpful. Thanks! Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 20:26
  • this is patently untrue
    – warren
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 17:30

Irish Whiskey is distilled 3 times. Scotch Whiskey is distilled 2 times. U.S. whisky is distilled once.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site, and thank you for contributing this information. Could you edit to say how you know this? Our users find answers with sources to be more helpful. Thanks! Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 20:25
  • 3
    This is a common misconception. Additionally, any time a distillery tells you how many times something is distilled, it's entirely for advertising purposes and doesn't tell you much about the quality of the product. What matters is the cut. A single distillation can be much much smoother than something distilled six times.
    – Montijello
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 12:30

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