Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey: An Ultimate Guide

Did you know that Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are different? The two iconic American spirits have rich histories and distinct characteristics based on various aspects. While they share some of the key aspects, including legal requirements and aging in new charred oak barrels, there are other vital elements that set them apart. In this guide, we'll unravel the intricacies that make each unique, including flavor profiles and production techniques, among others, to appreciate their distinct qualities. Let's dive in!

Differences Between Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey

While Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey share certain similarities with American whiskeys, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. From their production methods to their ingredient composition, here are the key differences between these two enticing spirits:

Mash Composition

Bourbon is primarily made from a grain mixture with at least 51% corn, distilled to about 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume). The remaining portion typically consists of malted barley, rye, or wheat, imparting different flavor profiles to the final product. The higher corn content lends a sweeter and fuller-bodied taste to Bourbon.

Similarly, Tennessee Whiskey contains a grain composition of at least 51% corn, distilled to about 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume). However, unlike Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey undergoes an additional filtration process through charcoal, known as the Lincoln County Process. This charcoal filtering, done before aging, gives Tennessee Whiskey its distinctive smoothness and taste, distinguishing it from Bourbon. As a result, Tennessee Whiskey is often referred to as the smooth charmer.

Production and Aging Process

The production process for Bourbon involves mashing grains, fermenting the mash, and distilling the liquid. Additionally, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels to be recognized as Bourbon. The oak barrels, often crafted from white oak, contribute to the rich flavors and caramelized notes that Bourbon connoisseurs cherish. They also allow the whiskey to mellow, develop complexity and absorb flavors from the wood, resulting in Bourbon's unique amber hue and distinct oaky and vanilla taste. However, for a Bourbon to be called a ''straight Bourbon,'' it must be aged for a minimum of two years.

Tennessee Whiskey follows the same production process as Bourbon. However, before aging, it undergoes an additional step known as the Lincoln County Process. The whiskey is filtered through charcoal made from sugar maple, which can mellow the flavor and remove impurities. After filtration, it is then aged in new charred oak barrels. In addition, there's another notable difference in Tennessee Whiskey production due to the use of specific yeast strains unique to each distillery, which can contribute to the whiskey's flavor profile.

Flavor Profiles

Bourbon vs tennessee whiskey

The flavor profiles of Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey share similarities but exhibit distinct features. Bourbon tends to have a wide range of flavors and aromas. It often features notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes hints of fruit and spice. The flavor profile varies based on the specific mash bill and the aging process. Its sweetness can manifest as flavors of caramel, toffee, and maple syrup. Additionally, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are common in Bourbon, adding depth and complexity.

On the contrary, Tennessee Whiskey undergoes the charcoal filtration process that gives it a distinct flavor. As a result, it imparts subtle charcoal notes adding a unique layer to its flavor. It is often described as having a smoother and slightly sweeter taste compared to Bourbon, with flavors of caramel, vanilla, and brown sugar. Tennessee Whiskey has a balanced flavor profile that combines sweetness, smoothness, and milder overall character.

Legal Requirements

Specific legal requirements regulate Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. To be labeled Bourbon, the whiskey must meet specific legal requirements established by the U.S. government, including the grain mixture, distillation proof, and aging process. It does not have to be produced in Kentucky, contrary to popular belief. In addition, the bottling proof must be done at no less than 80-proof (40% alcohol by volume).

On the other hand, Tennessee Whiskey is subject to the exact legal requirements as Bourbon. However, it must follow the Tennessee Whiskey standard. For instance, one unique legal requirement for Tennessee Whiskey is the use of the "Lincoln County Process." This process involves filtering the whiskey through charcoal made from sugar maple before aging. The charcoal filtration step distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from other types of American whiskey.

Famous Brands

Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey have a rich selection of famous brands known for their quality and craftsmanship. Here are some well-known brands available at our online liquor store for each category:


We have a wide selection of Bourbon, and some include:

1. Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

If you are craving a drink with a smooth and mellow flavor profile, Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon stands out in that category. Having been aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years and with at least 51 % corn, Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon provides distinct and complex flavors.

2. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Woodford Reserve's higher rye percentage makes it distinct from other Bourbons, which contributes to a spicier and more complex flavor profile. Woodford Reserve is renowned for its rich, full-bodied character with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, caramel, toasted oak, and spices. It's thus an ideal choice for classic Bourbon-based cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Bourbon Sour.

3. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey

Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey

This Bourbon also has a robust flavor profile due to its higher rye proportion compared to traditional Bourbon recipes. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey is characterized by its bold and complex taste, featuring notes of rye spice, vanilla, caramel, and oak. It's often enjoyed neat or on the rocks or in classic Bourbon cocktails.

4. Wild Turkey Bourbon 101

Wild Turkey Bourbon 101

Are you looking for a more intense and full-bodied tasting experience? With 50.5 % alcohol volume, Wild Turkey Bourbon 101 has a bold and flavorful taste. It adds a strong and distinctive character to classic Bourbon cocktails with notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and a noticeable kick of rye spice.

Tennessee Whiskey

Some of the famous brands of Tennessee Whiskey you'll find in our online liquor store include: 

1. Jack Daniel's

Jack Daniel's

This iconic brand has had a global reputation. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey consists predominantly of corn, along with malted barley and rye. This combination contributes to its characteristic flavors, which include notes of caramel, vanilla, toasted oak, and a touch of sweetness.

2. George Dickel Sour Mash Whiskey

George Dickel Sour Mash Whiskey

If you prefer smooth whiskeys, consider George Dickel Sour Mash Whiskey. It is produced using a portion of previously fermented mash (sour mash), which enhances consistency and influences smoothness. It provides a balanced flavor profile with notes of oak, caramel, vanilla, and spice from the rye.

3. Ole Smoky Tennessee Blended Whiskey

Ole Smoky Tennessee Blended Whiskey

Crafted with the traditional recipe, Ole Smoky Tennessee Blended Whiskey is made from a mash bill that includes corn, barley, and rye. Its smoothness and approachable flavor profile result from aging in new charred oak barrels influencing the rich flavors of caramel, vanilla, oak, and spice.

4. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Prepare yourself for an incomparable revelation for an exceptional family recipe that has remained hidden since 1909. Every single drop of this exquisite whiskey is crafted with utmost care and undergoes an exacting journey through a gentle layer of sugar maple charcoal, resulting in an unmatched smoothness.

Aged gracefully in new charred oak barrels. The flavors mature into a symphony of perfection. This is all thanks to Charles Nelson's legendary wheated mash bill and his unwavering commitment to following a meticulous process that has become the benchmark for all Tennessee Whiskeys. Allow your senses to be captivated by the tempting tasting notes of caramel, vanilla, and apple that are seamlessly blended together.


Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are types of American whiskey that have distinct characteristics. Bourbon has diverse flavor profiles, including caramel, vanilla, oak, and fruit notes. On the other hand, Tennessee Whiskey undergoes charcoal filtration that results in a smoother and slightly sweeter taste, with hints of caramel, vanilla, and a subtle charcoal influence. 

Ultimately, the choice between Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey comes down to personal preference and the specific flavor profile you seek. Regardless of whether you enjoy Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, or both, you can find some of the best brands at Nestor Liquor


Can Tennessee Whiskey Be Referred to as Bourbon?

Tennessee Whiskey can be considered a type of Bourbon once it has met the legal requirements for Bourbon production, including being made primarily from corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, and distilled to specific proof levels. However, Tennessee Whiskey typically undergoes the additional step of charcoal filtration, distinguishing it from other Bourbons.

Can I Use Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey Interchangeably in Cocktails?

Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey can be used interchangeably in cocktails. Both types of whiskey provide rich flavors and complexity to cocktails. However, if you specifically desire the subtle influence of charcoal filtration, you may prefer to use Tennessee Whiskey in mixed drinks.

Does Charcoal Filtration Affect the Flavor of Tennessee Whiskey?

Yes, charcoal filtration influences the flavor profile of Tennessee Whiskey. It imparts a slight sweetness and smoothness to the whiskey, along with subtle charcoal notes. However, the impact on flavor may vary based on the specific distillery and its filtration process.

Are There Legal Differences Between Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey?

Yes, Tennessee Whiskey must meet all the requirements to be labeled as Bourbon. However, it must also undergo the Lincoln County Process, making it distinct from traditional Bourbons. Undergoing charcoal filtration sets Tennessee Whiskey apart and gives it its legal designation.

Is Bourbon Always Made in Kentucky?

On the contrary, Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States. While Kentucky is closely associated with Bourbon production and is known for its Bourbon heritage, it can legally be made in any distillery.

BourbonTennessee whiskey

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