Bourbon vs Whiskey: 8 Key Differences (+ How To Invest In Them)

by Hunter Robillard

Bourbon looks and tastes similar to whiskey, so you may wonder if there’s any difference between them.

Actually, it’s a bit of both.

Whiskey is the name for the category of alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain mash (which also includes Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, and rye whiskey). Meanwhile, Bourbon is an American whiskey with a distinctly sweet flavor, made primarily from corn and aged in a new charred oak barrel.

In other words, Bourbon is a whiskey, but not all whiskey is Bourbon.

This article explores the differences between Bourbon vs whiskey, covering its flavor profile, composition, and production methods. We’ll also check out a few popular whiskey brands and some luscious Bourbon cocktails (like the Whiskey Sour, Mint Julep, and Old Fashioned).

Lastly, we’ll show you how to invest in whiskey casks through Whiskeyvest.

Further reading

Bourbon vs Whiskey: What Is the Difference?

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As mentioned, whiskey is a category of alcoholic beverage made from a grain mix of barley, corn, rye, and wheat. 

Bourbon is an American whiskey that, by law, must be made from a grain composition with a minimum of 51% corn. It has a distinctively smooth mouthfeel and a sweet, rich flavor that is approachable and easy to enjoy.

Common whiskeys besides Bourbon include:

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

What Differentiates Bourbon From Other Whiskeys? (8 Key Differences)

There are a few key aspects to the production and flavor profile of Bourbon that set it apart from other whiskeys. Let’s discuss what exactly makes Bourbon such a distinctive spirit.

1. Flavor Profile

When sipping Bourbon whiskey, you'll notice its unique characteristics — thanks to the high corn content and charred oak barrel. Common tasting notes include:

  • Caramel
  • Vanilla
  • Oak
  • Baking spice
  • Smoke
  • Fruit
  • Nuts

Bourbon has a smooth, full-bodied, and a slightly oily mouthfeel. Each sip is like a warm embrace to your senses, with flavors that linger and evolve on the palate.

2. Geographic Regions

Whiskey is produced in various regions around the world, but Bourbon is uniquely American. In fact, “America’s native spirit” must be made in the United States to be called Bourbon.

The beverage is said to originate from Bourbon County, Kentucky, and to this day, almost all Bourbon is Kentucky Bourbon.

3. Grain Mash Composition

The grain composition plays a crucial role in defining the flavors of whiskey. 

Bourbon’s most distinctive requirement is that it must be produced with a minimum of 51% corn, which gives it its characteristic sweetness and full-bodied flavor. The rest of the grain mash is usually a combination of malted barley, rye, and wheat.

4. Distillation

Whiskey distillation methods vary based on region and the style of whiskey being produced. 

For example, a whiskey maker typically distills Scotch whiskey twice in copper pot stills. Meanwhile, Irish whiskey usually goes through triple distillation. 

When distilling Bourbon whiskey, the whiskey maker typically employs column stills or a combination of column and pot stills. The use of column stills allows for a continuous distillation process, which produces a cleaner and higher-proof spirit.

5. Aging Process

Aging is an essential aspect of developing the flavors and character of Bourbon and whiskey.

A Bourbon barrel is made of new American charred oak before being filled with distilled whiskey. This imparts a rich, deep flavor and color to the spirit as it ages. 

Unlike other whiskies, you can’t age Bourbon in a pre-used whiskey barrel. Bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak barrel to be considered a true Bourbon whiskey. 

While there is no minimum or maximum aging requirement for Bourbon in general, it must be aged for at least two years to be considered straight Bourbon whiskey.

6. Proof Range

By US law, Bourbon must be distilled at no more than 160 proof (80% ABV) and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% ABV). That said, the proof range for most common bottlings is between 80 and 100 proof (40-50% ABV). 

7. Cocktails

While whiskey and Bourbon can often be used interchangeably in cocktails, the choice between them can make a difference in the flavor of the drink.

Classic, traditional Bourbon cocktails that are traditionally made with Bourbon include the Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, and Whiskey Sour.

On the other hand, if you want to make a Rob Roy or Rusty Nail but don’t have any Scotch on hand, you could try making the cocktail with Bourbon instead. While traditionalists might scoff at this notion, you might just like it better.

8. Brands

Just like Scotch has Glenfiddich, and Irish Whiskey has Jameson, Bourbon has its own set of iconic brands:

  • Jim Beam: Since 1795, the Jim Beam distillery has offered a variety of Kentucky straight Bourbon like the classic White Label, smooth Jim Beam Black, and small-batch options like high-rye Basil Hayden's and the 9-year-aged Knob Creek.
  • Maker's Mark: Known for producing one of the best wheated Bourbons and their signature hand-dipped red wax-sealed bottles. Their offers include unique expressions like Maker's Mark 46 and the robust Cask Strength.
  • Woodford Reserve: Distinctive for its triple-distilled copper pot stills, it's the official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select boasts over 200 flavor notes, while Double Oaked is aged in two separate barrels for extra depth.
  • Buffalo Trace: This historic distillery offers an 8-year-old flagship Bourbon and the highly sought-after antique collection, including legendary expressions like George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller.
  • Wild Turkey: Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has crafted one of the most distinct Bourbons, known for its high-rye, spicy flavor profile. Key offerings from Wild Turkey include the barrel-proof Rare Breed and the single-barrel Kentucky Spirit.
  • Four Roses: Even whiskey laymen likely know Four Roses. Using two mash bills and five proprietary yeast strains, they’ve created ten distinct Bourbon recipes. Try their Small Batch Select, which blends six recipes for a complex flavor experience.
  • Old Fitzgerald: A classic wheated Bourbon with a connection to Pappy Van Winkle, now made by Heaven Hill. Discover their Bottled-in-Bond series for vintage releases and the collectible decanter series, featuring ornate bottles.
  • Evan Williams: One of the best-selling brands of Kentucky straight Bourbon whiskey in the world, named after one of the early Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, and known for its smooth taste and affordable pricing.

Bourbon vs Other Whiskeys

Below, we’ll give you an overview of the key differences between Bourbon and several other types of whiskeys.


Note: This table provides a general overview. The proof ranges listed are typical for each whiskey type, but individual whiskeys may fall outside these ranges. Likewise, exact flavor profiles will differ across brands.

Are whiskey and Bourbon investment-worthy?

Whiskey and Bourbon as Investments

Whiskey and Bourbon have become increasingly popular as alternative investments, attracting collectors, enthusiasts, and investors alike. You can purchase and hold onto these sought-after spirits, hoping that their value appreciates over time.

The most sought-after bottlings are:

  • Limited edition releases
  • Age-statement bottles
  • Cask strength bottles
  • Discontinued bottles and distilleries

Also, the finest whiskeys have incredible price appreciation results:

  • The price of the Old Fitzgerald 1849 Bourbon Whiskey rose from $1,016 in October 2021 to $2,578 in January 2023 — a whopping 154% increase.
  • The Knob Creek Single Barrel 25th Anniversary Straight Bourbon Whiskey had an impressive 163% price increment — it rose from $216 in May 2021 to $567 in March 2023.

And how do the finest whiskeys perform at auctions?

  • The 1926 Macallan Fine & Rare Aged 60 Years whiskey was sold for an incredible $1.9 million at a Sotheby’s 2019 auction.
  • The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Aged 55 Years NV bottle went under the hammer for $789,814 at a Bonhams 2020 auction.

Now, you should consider the following key points when looking at whisky and Bourbon as investments:

  • Auctions and Secondary Market: The whiskey and Bourbon secondary market and auctions have grown in recent years. Monitoring these platforms can give you an idea of the current market trends and values of specific bottles.
  • Storage and Provenance: Ensure that bottles are stored in a cool, dark place with a consistent temperature. Maintaining the provenance of the bottle (e.g., original packaging, purchase receipts) can impact its value when selling.
  • Market Trends: Keep an eye on market trends and consumer preferences when investing in whisky or Bourbon. For example, Japanese whisky has seen a significant rise in popularity and demand in recent years, leading to increased interest from investors. Similarly, the Bourbon market has experienced growth, with a rising appreciation for craft distilleries and limited-edition releases.

Now, what could be better than investing in whiskey or Bourbon bottles

Investing in whiskey casks!


The average annual return on a rare whisky cask is between 8-12%, according to a report by Whisky Investment Partners. Also, you can buy whisky casks at a much younger age and at a lower price than matured whisky. The drink will only get better and more valuable over time.

We always recommend that you do thorough research and consult with a financial advisor or specialist (like Whiskeyvest) before making significant investments in this market.

Invest in Casks of Bourbon and Other Whiskeys Through Whiskeyvest

Whiskeyvest is an AI-powered investment platform that simplifies the process of investing in whiskey, making it more accessible than ever before.

Through Whiskeyvest, you have the opportunity to invest in a diverse range of highly desirable whiskey casks. This includes casks of premium American rye whiskey, Canadian whisky, Kentucky Bourbon, blended Scotch, Tennessee Whiskey, and rare Scotch whiskey.

Whiskeyvest offers many benefits, including:

  • Hassle-free ownership: Whiskeyvest authenticates, stores, and insures your whiskey casks. Interestingly, you can sample your whiskey once per year!
  • Spending less for more: By investing through Whiskeyvest, you’ll avoid intermediaries and extra commissions.
  • Expert assistance: Whiskeyvest’s expert advisers will guide you and help you create a successful portfolio.

Check out the Whiskeyvest platform today and start investing in whiskey casks from Bourbon County, Scotland, and all over the world.

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