As per a popular saying, ‘all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon’.
Whiskey is one of the world’s most popular alcoholic beverages. And it’s a name was derived from a phrase in Irish-language which means “water of life”.
There are many varieties of whiskey available across the world, scotch and bourbon are the most common ones. Along with some similarities, they have notable differences. The most prominent difference between bourbon, scotch and whiskey is geographic, but also ingredients and spellings. Flavours of bourbon are quite different from a Scotch whiskey.
Whiskey is distilled from fermented grain mash (wheat, rye, barley, corn) aged in wooden barrels. And is made all over the world with many popular styles including Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, and American whiskey. The most popular form of American whiskey is bourbon, which has its own specific definition by regulation.
So comes the main difference, a Bourbon needs to be produced in America and made from 51% corn, and whiskey does not.
Bourbon needs to be stored in new charred oak barrels, which are not to be reused, whereas whiskey oak barrels need not be new or charred & can be reused.
Most importantly, to be called a ‘Bourbon’, the spirit needs to be distilled to maximum of 80% alcohol and entered in the barrel at 60% alcohol content. It is distilled and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol.
For whiskies the liquid must be distilled to maximum 95%. And this isn’t just a common practice, it’s an actual bourbon law in USA.
The difference between most American Whiskey, and Bourbon is that after the spirit is distilled, Whiskey’s like Jack Daniel’s for example is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal. This filtering, known as the Lincoln County Process, distinguishing other American Whiskey from Bourbon, like Jim Beam.
And as for a whisky to be called a Scotch, it has to be Scotland. There are two main varieties, single malt & single grain.
Single malt Scotch is made from water and malted barley at a single distillery. Whereas, single grain Scotch whiskey is produced at single distillery but may contain other grains malted or un-malted.
Unlike bourbon, Scotch must be aged for at least 3 years in oak containers. Scotch whiskey is distilled and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol.
These differences result in different flavours, sweetness, and smoothness of the spirit. To figure out which best suits your palate, experiment with various types and brands of bourbon/whiskey/scotch.