aka Bourbon vs. Whiskey

Bourbon vs Whiskey. Learn the Difference.
Fred drinking Jim Beam

Bourbon (bour·bon)
NOUN – A whiskey distilled from a fermented mash containing not less than 51 percent corn in addition to malt and rye. see Jim Beam

Many of you know that Jim Beam and I have been friends for many years. When I ask for Jim at a bar and the Bartender grabs for Jack I get upset. Some people don’t think there’s a difference… but how wrong they are…

Bourbon drinkers take pride in their beverage.

Jim and I are friends, Jack’s never even stepped inside my home. (Jim’s got his own room)

Most people believe bourbon and whiskey are synonymous. Although there aren’t huge differences between the two, we Bourbon drinkers are here to help inform you that not all whiskeys are the same.

Bourbon falls into the Whiskey family… so all Bourbons are Whiskeys… but not all Whiskeys can be Bourbons. (Kind of like all Porsches are sports cars, but not all sports cars are Porsches…)

Whiskey is distilled liquor, made from the starchy materials of various grains. The grains are first ground into a mixture called mash. The mash is then fermented, distilled, blended and aged.

The type of grain and water contribute greatly to the taste of a particular Whiskey. After being distilled, the whiskey is then aged in wooden barrels – and, of course, the type of wood used also contributes to the taste as well.

The differences in how the whiskey is processed separates the Bourbons from the Whiskeys…

In order to be Bourbon, the whiskey must be distilled from grain mash containing 51% corn and aged at least two years in a new, oak barrel.

Jim Beam is Bourbon.

Jack Daniels is not.

The whiskey bottle’s label contains an amazing amount of information to help you separate the good from the ugly. Jack Daniels, for example, says “Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey,” meaning that (by law) the entire Whiskey was made in the state of Tennessee, and that some of the mash used to make one batch is added to the next batch (that’s what “sour” means).

Jim Beam’s label identifies the bourbon as a Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. What this means, is that Jim Beam is not blended with other whiskeys, that the mash contains 51% corn, some of the mash from the previous batch is added to the next one, and that the entire product was made within the state of Kentucky. (The label also says “The World’s Finest Bourbon”)

I hope that now you’ll see why when Fred asks for Jim Beam and gets Jack Daniels, you have one unhappy Fred.


trish 2012-08-28 Reply

what are the taste differences between bourbon and whiskey?

anna 2013-03-24 Reply

actually, jim beam IS blended with other whiskies, deceptively, ‘straight’ means it has been aged for at least 2 years, not that it is a single malt.

Fred Posner 2013-03-25 Reply

What do you believe Jim Beam is blended with?

H.A. Arnevet 2014-12-09 Reply

I suspect Anna means that most whiskeys are blends; the only “non-blends” would be single barrel. Sour mash, by definition, is not single barrel since the “starter” mash comes from an older production. It’s a picayunish point for most Bourbons but not so with “blended whiskeys.” True Bourbon (including sour mash) drinkers avoid blended whiskeys. As for me, I like my sour mash, single malt Irish, and arak (a/k/a ouzo).

Saheeb 2015-08-09 Reply

Actually, in my opinion, Evan Williams black label is far superior to Jim Beam in taste. Both are from the state of Kentucky, both are sour mash, both are not blended. BUT,, and here’s the kicker deal sealer, Evan is aged for at least five years where most, including Beam are only aged for the minimum of three years. Aging is the key. You can taste the notes of the oak in Evan. Try it my friend, if you are truly a connoisseur of good bourbon.

Fred Posner 2015-08-09 Reply

It’s very good. Jim Beam Black is similar. As I’ve aged (I wrote this more than 10 years ago) I’ve gotten more into drinking a good Bourbon neat. Booker is excellent.

Fred Posner 2015-08-11 Reply

Also… Check out Eagle Rare. Aged ten years and just incredibly smooth. It’s my current favorite.

robin 2015-08-28 Reply

Might add for any ‘Scotsmen’ out there, that having any good Bourbon ‘The Scottish Way’ is excellent. Just a splash of cool ‘branch’ water (or a little more for 100+ proofs). Makes for more of a sipping drink than a shot does, and nothing wimpy about it….but add more hoochah if it suits ya. Enjoy!

Bobby Pickersgill 2016-04-06 Reply

I avoid the pricey Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark bottles and enjoy discovering decent tasting bottom shelf ones but will still splurge on something obsure hard to find bourbon. Jesse James was surprisingly smooth & tasty but rare to find on a shelf. I miss JTS Brown (old school billiards players know if from the movies). Kentucky Tavern and Ten High is in my current inventory.

Jason 2016-04-27 Reply

Makers when I was younger, but the Knob Creek 100 has really become my favorite over the last few years. Unbelievable that nothing’s added except water and the flavor is so good. Blanton’s and Bookers also favorites, but overpriced I think..

Joe 2017-05-11 Reply

Any insights about Woodford Reserve? Thank you.

Brian 2018-03-18 Reply

The 1964 Bourbon Act applies to Tennesse Whiskey as well, so Jack is bourbon. The additional charcoal filtering doesn’t change the product. Charcoal is no different than using wood (paper), metal, plastic, etc. filters. Jack lives up to all the standards to be considered bourbon, so technically it is, but JD wanted to do its own thing and live outside the bourbon bubble. It’s like the guys in the barber shop in Coming to America arguing about Muhammad Ali. “If his mama calls him Cassius, I’m gonna call him Cassius.” “A man has the right to be called what he wants. If he wants to be called Muhammad Ali, he should be called Muhammad Ali.” (or something like that) If Jack doesn’t want to call himself bourbon, that’s cool, but you can’t fool me, son, I know the rules.

Fred Posner 2018-03-21 Reply

Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon Jack Daniels website (FAQs)

Briscoe 2018-07-17 Reply

Brlan’s point is not that Jack Daniels doesn’t call itself bourbon, so its not bourbon. He is saying the only reason its not bourbon is because Jack Daniels doesn’t WANT to call itself bourbon. If Jack Daniels decided tomorrow that they wanted to put BOURBON on their label….they could legally do so. They follow every single rule bourbon does. The “Lincoln County Process” does not break any of the rules nor disqualifies it for bourbon designation in any way. Tennessee has passed a state law designating what can and can not be Tennessee whiskey…but A) that is state law, bourbon is federal and B) Just like all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon…well all Tennessee whiskey can be bourbon (legally) but, of course, not all bourbon can be Tennessee whiskey. Tennessee whiskey is really just a subset of bourbon….it just has extra requirements, but not different ones

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