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Bourbon and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

Old Tennessee Distilling Company / Whiskey  / Bourbon and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?
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Bourbon and Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

In the world of liquor and spirits, most of us have a drink or two that functions as our “go-to” at a bar or restaurant. Usually, it’s because these drinks are delicious and easy to order (vodka soda, anyone?). Some types of alcohol, however, are a little more complicated, or at least, less straightforward. Living in East Tennessee, whiskey is commonly mentioned at events, in songs, and sometimes as a substitute for water. Some of us were indoctrinated into the world of fine whiskies by a relative or friend, but others haven’t been so fortunate. For them, there can be some confusion around this mysterious brown liquor. Is it whiskey or whisky? What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? What is Scotch? We’re going to break down the basics for you today so that you no longer have to second guess yourself at the liquor store and can finally get yourself a glass of whiskey.

Whiskey vs. Bourbon

Whiskey and bourbon are often used in the same sentence and can be very similar in taste and appearance, however, there are several key characteristics that separate the two. The first major distinction is that whiskey is made from a variety of grains, mash, and corn, but in order to be classified as a bourbon, it must be made of at least 51% corn. Additionally, bourbon has to be stored in new oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Other types of whiskey can be aged in rum or wine barrels, but bourbon must be in a clean oak barrel with no additives or colorings. An additional distinction between the two is that bourbon can not be bottled at an ABV higher than 125 (62.5% alcohol) whereas other whiskies do not have an ABV limit. 

Now that we have separated bourbon from whiskey, let’s look at the other types of whiskey. 


The pride of Scotland, Scotch whisky is often made from barley or a blend of different grains (but usually barley). The two main types of Scotch are single malt and blended. Single malt comes from a single distillery and from a single malt barley mash while blended Scotch comes from a blend of barrel whisky and grain whisky. Scotch is typically aged between 8 and 25 years and is intensely regulated for quality and production purposes.

Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is a bit of a mix of Scotch and American whiskey. Like Scotch, Irish whiskey is predominantly made from barley or a mix of malt and barley. This gives Irish whiskey the same exceptional smoothness found in Scotch. Like American whiskeys, though, Irish whiskeys are aged for a much shorter time. American whiskey has a minimum aging period of two years, while Irish whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years. 


God’s gift to Earth, Tennessee whiskey, is produced in a very similar fashion to bourbon but goes through one additional step in order to achieve its lofty status as a Tennessee whiskey. The Lincoln County process is the process by which the whiskey is charcoal-filtered before barreling. This process is named for the original location of the Jack Daniels distillery and is now used by almost all Tennessee whiskey manufacturers. 

While there are quite a few types of whiskey, and enormous variance in price and quality, there is truly something there for everyone. If you aren’t quite ready to pick out a bottle, come by our tasting room at Old Tennessee Distilling Co. and give ours a try!

Kent Merritt

Gatlinburg native Kent Merrit oversees the behind-the-scenes operations at Old Tennessee Distilling Company. He has over 35 years of manufacturing and business management experience and is passionate about developing and promoting businesses with exceptional products and excellent customer service. He invites you to pop in at Old Tennessee Distilling Co. for a free tasting of moonshine and distilled spirits. "Take a moment, take a sip, and get a taste for Tennessee."

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