Do You Know the Difference between Bourbon and Whiskey?

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

Here in the South, it is important to know the difference between bourbon and whiskey — because as the saying goes: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

For a whiskey to be considered bourbon, it must follow a strict set of guidelines during the distilling process. This is where it can get a little confusing. To clear things up, we met with Teddy Nixon, Bar Manager at Bar Mash in Charleston, South Carolina, for a quick lesson in “Bourbon Law.”

“Whiskey is basically just a blanket term for anything distilled from cereal grains,” Nixon explains. “That can be anything from corn, rye, barley, wheat.” So essentially, whiskey is pretty easy to understand.

Bourbon gets a little more specific, which is where “Bourbon Law” comes in … and might be part of the reason bourbon is so valued in the South.

To be classified as bourbon, whiskey must:

  1. Be made in the United States.
  2. Contain at least 51 percent corn.
  3. Be aged in new charred American oak barrels.
  4. Be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.
  5. Be put in the barrel at no higher than 125 proof.
  6. Be bottled at no lower than 80 proof.

For Nixon, it is these rules that make bourbon a higher quality product than general whiskey. “You don’t know exactly what you’re getting when it just says whiskey on the bottle. When it says bourbon, you know what you’re having.”

The difference between bourbon and whiskey? Bourbon and whiskey each have their place in your bar, but bourbon is almost assuredly going to be of a certain standard or quality … which makes it a go-to in our book every time.

Want to expand your bourbon knowledge even further? Check out this bourbon that does “hard time” behind bars or this drinking establishment that takes the substance so seriously they offer multiple kinds … on draft.

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