What’s The Difference Between Irish Whiskey & Bourbon?

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Scotch, Rye, Irish, Bourbon…With so many options available in whiskeys or whiskies all around the world, it is common to get confused with the varieties. With this article, let’s simplify it for you with an overview of the differences between Bourbon & Irish Whiskey.

Not only do bourbon & Irish whiskey differ in taste, ingredients, production methods, but they also differ in terms of geographical locations where they are produced. For the starters, it’s but safe to say that both are types of whiskeys (or whiskies). While Bourbon is made in America, Irish whiskey as the name suggests is made in Ireland. So, let’s delve a little further to get a better understanding.


Primarily made in Kentucky, it is only produced in America by law. As commonly said and understood, ‘all bourbon is whisky but not all whiskey is bourbon’.

95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky, but the law doesn’t restrict its production in other parts of America.

In 1964 the Congress passed a concurrent resolution which declared bourbon as the ‘distinct product of the United States of America’.

To be legally called bourbon, this burnt golden American native has to fulfil the following criterion, namely-

1) Its mash should have at least 51% corn, the remaining proportion consists of other grains such as barley, rye or wheat. While some bourbons use more corns in during fermentation which makes it taste sweeter, others use rye for spice or wheat.

2) It should be aged in new charred oak barrels. The charring process helps Bourbon get its distinct flavour and the golden colour. There are no particular age criteria for bourbon, however, it is aged for a minimum of two years, and the best bourbons come out after four years, though they can be aged for longer.

3) It should be distilled to a maximum of 80% ABV and a minimum of 40% ABV.

4) It should be entered into the barrel for ageing at no more than 125 proof.

Bourbon is distilled in column stills and its flavour changes drastically over the years. During the maturation the right humidity & temperature allow the whiskey to penetrate deeper into the charred oak. It must be matured at least for a minimum of two years in the oak barrels.

Based on the different production processes, there are different types of Bourbons, and each has its own distinctive taste & character.

Irish Whiskey

It is interesting to know that the word ‘whiskey’ has Irish roots. It is derived from the Irish or Gaelic word ‘uisce beatha, which means the ‘water of life’.

Produced in Ireland, Irish whiskey is protected by law to be produced, labelled and marketing to be verified by the Irish revenue authorities. The main ingredient in Irish whiskey is barley malted & unmalted, it is made in the pot still phase, and similar to bourbon it is aged in oak casks.

The law requires Irish whiskey to adhere to the following specifications-

1) It should be distilled in the islands of Ireland from the mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals.

2) Only yeast should be used in the fermentation process.

3) The minimum alcohol volume content must be 40% and it must be distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8%

4) The distillate must mature in wooden casks for a minimum of 3 years & its quantity must not exceed 700 litres in capacity.

5) The alcohol beverages must not be labelled, packaged, sold, advertised or promoted in such a way to suggest they are Irish whiskey or any of the sub-varieties unless they meet the relevant requirements.

To conclude, it all begins with the spelling, whiskey or whisky depends on the country where it is produced. The Americans and Irish prefer an extra ‘e’ in whiskey, whereas, the rest of the world prefers to call it ‘whisky’. So here’s hoping that with the above-mentioned overview, you’re better able to know your whisky!

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