The difference between bourbon and whiskey is a bit controversial. It is even believed that using both terms interchangeably is something wrong. Chris Fletcher is a Master Distiller in Jack Daniel, Lynchburg, Tennessee. In fact, this is the oldest distillery in America. He highlights the truth about the differences and similarities of both drinks.
For one thing, drinking whiskey has been popular in America since colonial times. What’s more, George Washington had a distillery specifically for rye whiskey. But, bourbon is known as the Native American spirit. And this one has seen an astonishing resurgence in the last decade. In 2018, about 24 million cases of American whiskey were sold in the United States. An amount that includes bourbon and whiskey, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
Difference between bourbon and whiskey
Any distilled liquor derived from grain not distilled at 190 degrees is known as whiskey. When it reaches 190 and a little more, you are making a neutral liquor such as vodka. Additionally, Fletcher also says that the whiskey must be exposed to oak. In fact, a barrel is used specifically to age the liquor. However, this is not all. On a global level, there are Scottish, Canadian, and Irish whiskeys, among others. But, when it comes to American whiskeys, there are stricter laws that define them.
One thing to be clear about is that American whiskeys are legally defined. Thanks to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Office. For a whiskey to be labeled pure American, it must be aged in oak containers. In addition, the grains that compose it must have a specific percentage. For example, straight whiskey must be at least 51% rye. And, it must be aged in barrels for at least two years and distilled in the same state.
Like Whiskey, Bourbon also has strict guidelines. In the United States, they can be manufactured in any state. However, Kentucky is the most famous of all. Also, this is a straight American whiskey. With the difference that it must have at least 51% corn in the recipe. And, it must be aged in new or charred oak barrels. In fact, according to Fletcher, there are other technical specifications for this process.
Outside the United States, whiskey can be distilled up to 189 degrees. But, within the country, Bourbon cannot be distilled more than 160 degrees. Because that retains more of the flavor of the beans from the fermentation process. On the other hand, American bourbon cannot be added to the barrel to age. Specifically, if it is already over 125 degrees.
Sometimes water is added to the final whiskey without aging. In order to reduce it to the test that the producer wishes. For example, some companies lower it down to 114 degrees before putting them in the aging process. This usually lasts four years, even longer.
You have probably heard a very famous phrase said. “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon”. Therefore, it is here that you can see the difference between bourbon and whiskey. Bourbon is derived from at least 51% corn. But it is not distilled at more than 160 degrees and is placed in new oak barrels. Also, it must be bottled with a minimum of 80 proof.
Difference between bourbon and whiskey: Tennessee
Another question Fletcher poses is the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel is a whiskey that qualifies 100% as bourbon. In fact, for a whiskey to be from Tennessee, the liquor must be made in that area. Then this has to qualify as bourbon whiskey.
“That means you have to follow the minimum of 51 percent corn. The maximum distillation of 160 degrees (we’re actually well below 140 degrees in Jack Daniel’s). We always have to age in a new, charred oak container/barrel. And, it has to go in at 125 degrees or less.” Adds Fletcher.
After the whole process, the Jack Daniel Distillery adds a final step. This is known as charcoal smoothing. In fact, this company makes its own charcoal on the premises. Through burnt maple way to complete charcoal. The charcoal is then packed into a large tub. And then the freshly distilled, unaged whiskey is filtered through the charcoal.
“If you’ve ever used a water filter like a Brita, it contains charcoal, but it doesn’t flavor the water. The concept is similar. The whiskey goes in clear and comes out clear and then goes into the barrels to age. Also, this one Costly final step, it was once used by Kentucky bourbon makers. In fact, it is a differentiator for Jack Daniel and significant to his brand. Although our product qualifies as bourbon we prefer to be identified as Tennessee whiskey.” Fletcher comments.
Why do both liqueurs taste different?
The difference between bourbon and whiskey with respect to taste is due to the origin of the ingredients. For example, a brandy made from distilled corn will taste different. Unlike one made from distilled rye. Plus, this is a completely different recipe after all.
In Jack Daniel’s case, they inoculate the fermentation with a yeast strain. This is grown in the laboratory every day. According to Fletcher: “That yeast is a huge source of flavor for our whiskey and if we use a different yeast than the next distillery, that’s a big difference in flavor.”
On the other hand, Kerri Richardson is the president of the Bourbon Women’s Association in Kentucky. She comments that women who drink this liquor classify it as one of their favorites. In addition, it has medical and anecdotal data to support it in one way or another. In the 1990s, sensory studies were done. These showed that women have a genetic predisposition to pick up scents. Also, they capture flavors thanks to the larger olfactory centers in the brain.
“When you have a very high-proof whiskey, usually a lot of cool things happen in that bottle and women really tend to go for that. We had a blind tasting a year ago of Heaven Hill products and I knew what would be in that lineup. I didn’t know which was which, but I knew which one we would pick as our favorite: the highest proof – and I was right.” Adds Kerri.