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Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey: Understanding the Distinctive Flavors of American Spirits

When it comes to classic American spirits, Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey top the list. However, despite their similar roots and appearances, these two beverages have unique characteristics that distinguish one from the other. In this article, we delve into the nitty-gritty of Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey and what makes each stand out.

The All-American Spirits

Both Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are distilled from grain mixtures, aged in charred oak containers, and exude a rich, full-bodied flavor. Nevertheless, their differences emerge from subtle factors like geography, grain mixture composition, and specific aging and filtering processes.

bulleit bourbon glass

Bourbon: The Rich Taste of Kentucky

Bourbon, recognized by Congress as a “distinctive product of the United States,” is steeped in tradition. Originating from Kentucky, Bourbon’s name comes from Bourbon County, one of the state’s historic whiskey-producing regions.

Bourbon regulations

Here’s what the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits in the U.S. declare about Bourbon:

  1. It must be made from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn.
  2. It must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  3. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years.
  4. It cannot contain any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives.

These regulations ensure that every bottle labeled as Bourbon delivers a consistent, high-quality product.


Tennessee Whiskey: The Smooth Sip of the South

On the other hand, Tennessee Whiskey is geographically tied to, you guessed it, Tennessee. While its production process is similar to Bourbon, a key distinguishing step known as the Lincoln County Process is what sets it apart.


Tennessee Whiskey must adhere to all the rules for being a Bourbon and one more: it must be filtered through sugar maple charcoal before it’s put into barrels, a technique known as the Lincoln County Process. This process mellows the whiskey, giving it a smoother taste and distinctive character.

Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey: The Flavor Factor

While Bourbon generally has a full-bodied, rich, and sweet flavor with a slight fruitiness, Tennessee Whiskey is often described as smoother and more mellow, with a stronger flavor of corn.

Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S., though the majority is made in Kentucky. In contrast, Tennessee Whiskey, as the name suggests, must be produced in Tennessee.

These popular Bourbons and Tennessee Whiskeys each offer a unique taste and story. Whether you’re a seasoned whiskey aficionado or just beginning your whiskey journey, there’s plenty to explore within these two distinct categories of American spirits.