What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey?
Feb 18, 2020
Bourbon is a type of whiskey while whiskey is an umbrella term to classify a number of other whiskeys. For example, both bourbon and scotch are types of whiskey but whiskey isn’t necessarily a bourbon or scotch. Bourbon is whiskey made in the United States, while Scotch is whiskey (or rather whisky as it’s called there) from Scotland. So, what makes bourbon bourbon? Bourbon must be made in the United States, contain at least 51% corn, and must age in a new charred barrel. While bourbon is a type of whiskey, it can only use the name bourbon if it meets these characteristics.
What You Need to Know About Whiskey
Whiskey is any spirit distilled from fermented grain. The grain types used vary by the class of whiskey being made. Each style has its own regulations that dictate what characteristics must be met. Common characteristics across whiskey are a proof between 80 and 140 with an ABV between 40% and 70%.
Where does that place bourbon? Whiskey is an umbrella term which bourbon falls under. Hence all bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbons. A bit like how every square is a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares. Bourbon is one of the six main types of whiskey, which are:
- Canadian Whiskey
- Rye whiskey
- Irish Whiskey
- Japanese Whiskey
You’ll usually hear whiskey described as having flavors of vanilla, oak, and caramel. It is fairly diverse in serving options, from drinking it straight to being used in cocktails. You’ll commonly find whiskey as the star of the following cocktails:
- Old Fashioned –sugar, bitters, water, bourbon, orange peel
- Manhattan –bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, orange peel, cherry
- John Collins –simple syrup, bourbon, lemon juice, lemon slice, orange peel, cherry, club soda
- Irish Coffee –brown sugar, Irish whiskey, hot coffee, whipped cream
- Mint Julep –mint leaves, bourbon, seltzer water, sugar
The History of Whiskey
Whiskey was actually originally created for use in medicine as an anesthetic and antibiotic. Originally being distilled in apothecaries and monasteries. This practice lasted until the 15th century. It was then spread across the globe by immigrants.
Whiskey goes through a five-step process to morph from grains into the drink we know and love. The process can be broken down as follows:
The first step in the process, malting, takes roughly 2 to 3 days. This is done to convert the starch in the grain into soluble sugar which is used to make alcohol. The grain is soaked then laid out to sprout. Once sprouting or germination has occurred, the grain is dried and heated in the final steps of malting.
The malt (also called grist) from malting is then mixed with water during the mashing process. This creates a combination known as mash. This is when the sugars are drawn off, called the wort.
Yeast is added to the wort in the third step in the whiskey production process. This is what turns the sugars into alcohol. Fermentation will generally take about 48 hours. However, the fermentation process can be extended to obtain certain desirable characteristics.
The alcohol resulting from fermentation is then heated in stills made from copper. Copper stills are used to better extract impurities from the alcohol. The shape of the stills also plays into the final flavor and character. During this process, foreshots (pungent and high in alcohol content) become feints (still pungent but weaker in alcohol content). The foreshot and feint are mixed and distilled, then from it, the ‘heart’ is pulled to be matured into whiskey.
The whiskey is aged in oak barrels. The whiskey will combine with natural compounds in the oak for different flavors. Depending on the whiskey, the aging process will require different durations. For example, scotch requires three years of aging to be considered scotch.
What You Need to Know About Bourbon
Bourbon is often associated with Kentucky but can be made anywhere within the United States. In fact, bourbon is currently produced in all fifty states.
You’ll find all bourbon ranges from light to a dark, rich amber color. As a general rule, there is no single factor that determines bourbon coloring. Color can be an indicator of the amount of time spent in the barrel and the type of barrel used.
But not all whiskeys keep their natural color. Often caramel coloring will be added. Unless your bottle states the bourbon holds its natural coloring, assume the coloring has been altered.
The History of Bourbon
In 1964, the United States dubbed bourbon ‘America’s Native Spirit’, making it the official distilled spirit of America.
These days we have an entire month dedicated to this distilled spirit called National Bourbon Heritage Month. This takes place in September each year since 2007. There’s even a Kentucky Bourbon Festival each year, taking place during select dates in September and featuring historical exhibits, dinners, and tastings, among other activities.
Bourbon, as previously mentioned, can only be produced in the United States. It’s other production requirements include the use of new charred barrels. Only new barrels can be used.
The mashbill must consist of at least 51% corn, although rye, wheat, and barley are commonly used to make up the remainder of the mash bill.
The stills most commonly used for bourbon production are column stills. A doubler or thumper is used for redistillation. While column stills followed by a doubler or thumper are the norm, pot stills are still used by some distilleries.
To produce straight whiskey the aging process will need to take at least two years. For other whiskeys, there are no minimum requirements for aging. Although, during bottling, a whiskey aged for less than four years will need to be denoted on the bottle.
Christner’s House Whiskey
Christner’s has a new whiskey from Elijah Craig. Christner’s house whiskey has sweet creamed corn and caramel notes and is quite viscous.