Is it Bourbon or is it Whiskey?

Bourbon Barrel

I’ve often heard the old saying, “All Bourbon can be a Whiskey but not all Whiskey can be a Bourbon”, and while it’s been helpful understanding the differences quickly, I think that with the large amount of small  (and not so small) distilleries creating their own Bourbon that it could he helpful to take a quick look at what characteristics differentiate Whiskey from Bourbon.

U.S. Bourbon is required to be:

  • Aged in NEW charred-oak barrels.
  • Made from at a grain mixture of at least 51% corn.
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof.
  • Barreled at no more than 125 proof.
  • Bottled at 80 proof or more.

A few finer points I should mention concern aging. While Bourbon doesn’t have a minimum aging period it does need to be aged at least briefly. However some Bourbons that have been aged at least 2 years and haven’t had any additives (coloring, flavoring, etc.) are usually referred to as “Straight Bourbon”.

It’s also important to notice that there are NO requirements mentioning a geographic location where Bourbon must be produced.  It’s a common misconception that Bourbon must be made in Kentucky most likely from the various legends surrounding it’s origin including Elijah Craig inventing the charred oak casks process, Jacob Spears labeling the product “Bourbon Whiskey” or due to being produced in Bourbon County. This rumor could also be perpetuated since a majority of Bourbon today is in fact produced in Kentucky (over 90%) but is not in fact required to be.

While Bourbon’s origins are mixed with legend and folklore I think we can all be thankful that this great American spirit was invented and is still going strong today. I even picked up a bottle of Bourbon from both of our local Columbus Ohio distilleries, Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits just a few weeks ago – both of which are being released for the first time.