Learn the meaning behind the phrase, "All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon."

By Melanie Fincher
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Bourbon glass with festive background
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Not all brown liquor is created equal, at least according to the U.S. government. There are strict guidelines from the government regulating what is bourbon and what is not. But one thing's for sure: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Turns out the difference between these two iconic spirits is more than just semantics. But to understand what bourbon really is, you first need to answer the question: what is whiskey?

What Is Whiskey?

Whiskey is a brown liquor made from distilled grains and aged in wooden barrels. The liquor's flavor must come from the barrel the whiskey is aged in, not from flavor additives. The type of grain and the type of barrel both determine the type of whiskey that is produced.

For most types of whiskey, everything starts with a mash of grains, whether it's barley, corn, rye, or wheat. The grains are then mixed with water and yeast, which converts starches to sugars that become alcohol. This mixture is then run through a still, which produces a high-proof liquid distillate that is clear. During the barrel-aging process, whiskey gets its darker color and oaky flavor. Depending on the production and location, whiskey can come in many different forms, including: blended, single malt, Irish, Scotch, bourbon, Tennessee, and more.

Bourbon vs. Whiskey: What's the Difference?

Understanding the basics of whiskey is important, but there are further guidelines laid out by the U.S. government on what makes something bourbon, according to the experts at Jim Beam.

Bourbon is:

1. Made in the United States of America

2. A product from a fermented mash of 51 percent corn at least

3. Distilled at no more than 160 proof

4. Stored at no more than 125 proof in new, charred oak barrels

5. Aged for a minimum of two years

6. Free from additives

In other words, bourbon is whiskey that has been made in the U.S. from at least 51 percent corn, giving it its sweet flavor, unlike barley or rye-based whiskeys. It also has to adhere to guidelines surrounding the maximum proof, style of barrel aging, and additives. Although bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S., 95 percent of the world's supply comes from the Bluegrass State (the birthplace of bourbon), according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

Now that you can impress with your whiskey knowledge, go ahead and experiment with this American made liquor. Not only is bourbon great for classic cocktails, its sweet flavor makes it a great addition to sweet and savory dishes alike. Start with these top-rated recipes:

Popular Bourbon Recipes

1. Chef John's Bourbon Glazed Carrots

Chef John says, "These butter-soaked bourbon-glazed carrots are the greatest special-occasion carrot side dish of all time. Sweet, savory, and oh so glossy."

2. Favorite Bourbon Pecan Pie

"I was worried that it might have too strong of an alcohol flavor, but it cooked right out and left it with a more sophisticated taste that was a welcome change from the same ole' pecan pie," says reviewer SKYBLUE1963.

Favorite Bourbon Pecan Pie
Credit: Supercook

3. Chef John's Homemade Eggnog

"Imagine a luxuriously textured bourbon-spiked custard being sipped through a thin layer of nutmeg-scented meringue," says Chef John. "Based on Alton Brown's famous version, this eggnog is vastly superior to the store-bought product."

4. Classic Old Fashioned

"One of the great classic bourbon cocktails, the Old Fashioned was invented in Louisville, Kentucky," says recipe creator c-biskit.

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