What’s the difference between bourbon vs whiskey? Here’s a quick guide to what you need to know about this style of liquor.

Whiskey

What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? Here’s the key: bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Whiskey is a family of distilled liquor, and bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey. Keep reading for a few things you may not know about this distilled spirit. We’ve also got lists of the best whiskey cocktails and bourbon cocktails to test out your newfound knowledge. Let’s get started!

Bourbon vs whiskey: what’s the difference?

Should you make a a whiskey sour, or a bourbon sour? Is it spelled whiskey or whisky? Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know!

  • Whiskey is a family of distilled liquor made by fermenting grain mash: wheat, rye, barley or corn. It’s then aged in wooden barrels, usually made of oak. There are many types of whiskey based on country and style of production. Some popular types of whiskey are:
  • Bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and aged in oak barrels. The name bourbon comes from Bourbon Country, Kentucky: the region where the spirit was invented. Today over 95% of the bourbon produced is made in Kentucky.

What does bourbon taste like vs whiskey?

The more important question is: what are the flavor differences between bourbon vs whiskey? Of course, bourbon is whiskey. But what distinguishes bourbon in flavor compared to other types of whiskey?

  • What does bourbon taste like? Bourbon has a sweeter flavor than other styles of whiskey, with notes of vanilla, oak and caramel. Of course, there’s a wide variety of different flavors between bourbon brands. One expert breaks bourbons into 4 major categories: grain forward, nutmeg forward, caramel forward, and cinnamon forward.
  • What does rye whiskey taste like? Rye whiskey tastes grassy and peppery, with a signature spicy finish. (See Rye vs Bourbon for more.)
  • What does Scotch taste like? Blended Scotch has a smooth flavor: malty and buttery, with a spicy finish. Single malt Scotch tastes oaky and woody, with signature peaty and smoky notes. (Pro tip: Whiskey made in Scotland is spelled “whisky.” Read more at Scotch vs Whiskey.)
  • What does Irish whiskey taste like? Irish whiskey is light and fruity, with a lightly floral scent and hints of nutty and vanilla tones. The finish is smooth and mellow, compared to the spicier finish of bourbon or rye whiskey.
Whiskey sour

Now, the fun part is mixing these spirits into cocktails! Of course, bourbon cocktails are whiskey cocktails. But not all whiskey cocktails are bourbon cocktails. In other words, some whiskey cocktails call for bourbon specifically. Other whiskey cocktails you can use any style of whiskey, including bourbon. Usually Irish whiskey cocktails and Scotch cocktails are specific to that type of whiskey, so don’t substitute bourbon.

Some of the most popular bourbon cocktails are:

Here are the most popular whiskey cocktails where you can use various types of whiskey:

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Whiskey sour

Whiskey Sour (aka Bourbon Sour)


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This easy whiskey sour recipe is perfectly balanced and so easy to make! Garnish with an orange peel and a cocktail cherry.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 ounces* bourbon whiskey or rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • Garnish: Orange peel and a cocktail cherry
  • Ice, for serving

Instructions

  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, and syrup to a cocktail shaker. Fill with a handful of ice and shake until very cold.
  2. Strain the drink into a lowball or Old Fashioned glass. Serve with ice, an orange peel and a cocktail cherry. 

Notes

*For converting to tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons.

  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Bourbon vs whiskey

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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