Browsing a beverage menu is easy if you know what you want, but it can get confusing when you enter the realm of hard liquors. Do you ever wonder where these types of alcohol come from, how they're made, and what popular drinks they are used in? Maybe even a basic taste description would be helpful. Here is where the distinction between two spirits is explained: whiskey vs bourbon. 

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Claire Waggoner

Whiskey: The Basics

Whiskey is found in some of your favorite classic cocktails: Old-fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, and Irish Coffee. This liquor encompasses a wide variety of spirits, all made through the same process. Made from fermented grain mash of either barley, corn, rye or wheat, whiskey is aged in charred white oak casks. The aging is what gives the alcohol its brown color and differs types of whiskey from other liquors.

But What About Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey. Although the name has French roots, it is commonly connected to the "Old Bourbon" area of Kentucky. This type of whiskey is distilled from corn and the grain mush must be at least 51 percent corn in order for the liquor to be classified as whiskey. On a legal level, the mixture has to be stored in charred oak containers and it can't contain any additives. 

Sweet and Smokey

Because bourbon is stored in charred oak containers, it tastes a little smokey. However, bourbon's main flavor is sweetness. This is what makes the liquor perfect in the classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. Made with muddling sugar and bitters together, then adding bourbon and a twist of citrus, the cocktail is served in a short, round tumbler-like glass.

By now you should have a basic understanding of whiskey vs bourbon, so next time you find yourself navigating a drink menu at a cocktail bar or restaurant, you know what to choose.