Whisky, Rum and Spirits

What’s the difference between Whisky and Bourbon?

The history of whisky goes back to the dawn of time and the mass emigration of the 19th century to America has written a new chapter, that of the bourbon, and rye alcohol based on rye. In the following lines you will understand the influence of cereals, the distillation of oak barrels, and the men who will make these two beverages close but subtly different cousins.

The Origins Of Whisky And Bourbon

Aqua vitae, or “Uisge Beatha” in Celt. These two words, shaped and distorted over the centuries by the smoke of peat fires, the frigid springs, the purr of stills, the distant journeys, give birth by contraction to the word “whisky”. To this day, and since the 1494 manuscript attesting to the distillation of whisky in Scotland by Brother John Cor, Scotland and Ireland claim the authorship of whisky.

For more than 4 centuries, whisky was produced exclusively in Scotland and Ireland.

The economic crisis that began at the end of the 18th century led Scots and Irish to emigrate to the New World, taking with them the family still.

Distillation spreads at the rate of expansion and conquest of new lands to settle in Illinois, Pennsylvania and mainly in the state of Kentucky where all the conditions are met for the production of whisky on a large scale: abundant pure springs, favourable climate, a rich land where rye, barley and especially corn grow, easy to produce because originating from the American continent…

Legend has it that the name was authorised by Pastor Elijah Craig, who between sermons named his distillate “Bourbon” after his county, named after King Louis XV, an ally of the Americans against the treacherous Albion. Other sources attribute the name to the large number of whiskey barrels from the county, stamped bourbon to indicate their geographical origin, a name that eventually referred to the contents. It was also only a matter of time before The French was adopted by congress as a national language because the aversion to England was visceral at the end of the 18th century in the United States.

The Difference Between Whisky And Bourbon – It’s All About the Process

Scotch whisky, whether single malt or blend, should be a minimum of 40 degrees of alcohol and age for at least three years in oak barrels on Scottish soil. It is distilled twice, sometimes three times, and must be made exclusively from malted barley for single malts. The blends are blends of grain whisky and single malts. The peat sometimes used to dry malted barley brings a special stock to some Scottish whiskies, especially those from Islay.

The distillation of single malts is done in two still pot-type still: the first, the wash still delivers a distillate at 25 degrees, followed by the spirit still that delivers the final distillate titling at more than 70 degrees.

Refining is usually done in barrels containing bourbon and often in sherry, port or other wines.

Bourbon is distilled continuously in a columned “still patent” and must be produced with a minimum of 51% corn added to malted rye barley or wheat which gives it more sweetness. It is necessarily refined in new oak barrels, often muddy or toasted. However, the proportion of maize is very often much higher and is close to 80%.

Bourbon should be aged at least two years, but the average duration is 4 to 6 years, and some expressions are 10, 12 or 17 years old. Finally, the name straight bourbon indicates that no adjuvant or dye is tolerated in the preparation process.

The practice of drobbing drums is said to have arisen from the need to eliminate any odour from the original contents of the barrels, which were the universal container for the transport of perishable goods at the time. Then it was noticed that the contents of the muddy drums were pleasant and the practice became widespread.

The Difference Between Whisky And Bourbon – Aromas And Flavours

Both bourbon and whisky have a rich palette of aromas and flavours revealed by each of the different expressions. However, some traits are more often found in a bourbon than in a malt whisky, such as the sweetness conferred by corn. Rye contributes to the spicy notes that will be found in some bourbons. When wheat is added to corn, the resulting bourbon is more floral. The nature and balance between the different cereals are decisive in the final character of a bourbon.

The new and muddy oak barrel will give the bourbon its vanilla character. This character fades at the second filling when making a Scotch whisky. After the cereal, it is the cask that will mark bourbon or Scottish malt from its imprint to bring us even richer tasting experiences.

Finally, bourbons very often have quite pronounced fruity notes, usually derived from the typical fermentation and distillation phase practiced for a grain alcohol. Where the distillation of a single malt is done in a pot still following a process that will be repeated, distilling the bourbon into columns still is an ongoing process. Continuous distillation allows the production of distillates with very high alcohol content that will ultimately be less complex. The art of the master distiller will therefore consist in the case of the single malt to cut the heads and tails of distillation and for the bourbon to select the height of the column at which it will operate the extraction of alcohol vapours.

Whisky And Bourbon – Final Words

There’s nothing like your own taste experience to form an opinion. Start tasting now to know the difference between whisky and bourbon.

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