Bourbon vs Irish Whiskey – All You Need to Know!

In the era of globalization and outsourcing, the fact that some items are so much a part of a native country that you cannot make them elsewhere is a beautiful thing.

It is not possible to legally produce Irish whiskey in the United States or bourbon whiskey in Ireland. Not because the Irish do not like the occasional Bourbon or because the Americans do not like the good Irish whiskey, but because the idea itself simply isn’t patriotic.

There is more to distinguish these liqueurs from their geography; however, Irish whiskey and Bourbon are produced with different grains and distilled in diverse ways, making it a unique experience for consumers. Each can be a good drink, but before you go to the store to buy a bottle of Jameson or Maker’s Mark, it’s helpful to know a little more about what makes them so popular.

The Main Differences Between Irish Whiskey vs Bourbon

The main differences between Irish Whiskey vs Bourbon are:

  • Irish whiskey is made in Ireland, whereas Bourbon is a whiskey made in the USA (usually in Kentucky).
  • Irish whiskey is made from barley malt, whereas bourbon is distilled from corn.
  • Irish whiskey is aged in ex-bourbon barrels from the USA, whereas bourbon is aged in new oak barrels.

Comparison Chart



Irish Whiskey


Type of distilled alcoholic beverages produced in the United States (according to international agreement).

The type of distilled alcoholic beverages produced in Ireland


The uniqueness of Bourbon is amber, slightly sweeter and denser than other whiskeys.

Unpeated malt is almost always used in Irish whiskey.


Bourbon cereals used contain at least 51% maize. Barley malt, rye, and wheat are usually the balance.

Barley, unmalted and malted (can be done with other cereals added)


New containers in carbonized oak. Generally white oak barrels.

Charred white oak.

Irish Whiskey VS Bourbon: What You Need To Know

Irish whiskey is generally considered one of the most delicate styles of whiskey. Regardless of the price range, you will find that these whiskeys are good on the rocks, as a shot or a cocktail.

One of the most exciting aspects of Irish whiskey is that all these brands usually appear in one of three Irish distilleries: Bushmills, Cooley, and Midleton. However, each brand has its own characteristics.

$ 30 Or Less

Finding cheap Irish whiskey is not difficult, although it is not usually the cheapest whiskey in the bar. With price tags under $30, these great whiskeys are very affordable, making them perfect for everyone.

You will also notice that this price range includes some of the most popular brands such as Bushmills, Jameson, and Tullamore Dew.

$ 30 or Less
Jameson Irish Whiskey | Drizly

Whiskey /40% ABV / Ireland

Offering hints of vanilla, cream and freshly cut grass with a touch of sweetness, Jameson Whiskey is aged for a minimum of four years, resulting in the quintessential triple-distilled liquid that is both smooth and versatile. 

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  • Two ginger
  • Bushmills Original
  • Feckin
  • Finian
  • Jameson
  • John L. Sullivan “Irish Bourbon”
  • Kilbeggan
  • knots 100 proof
  • Powers Irish Whiskey Gold Label (formerly John Power and Son)
  • Proper No. 12
  • Tullamore Dew

Range from $30 to $40

For about $10 more, you can find upgrades for most of the biggest names in Irish whiskey. These are usually blends that include slightly older whiskey than those present in the brand’s iconic bottling.

There are also lesser-known gems in this range that are worth collecting when you find them. Look for names like Slieve Foy, The Irishman and Tyrconnell for a high-quality Irish whiskey that will impress.

$30 to $40 range
Black Bush Irish Whiskey | Drizly

Whiskey /40% ABV / Ireland

A rich, dark, Irish blend, Black Bush contains a high proportion of triple-distilled single malt, aged in Oloroso sherry casks for around 8-10 years before marriage with the grain.

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  • Black bush
  • Clontarf Single Malt
  • Connemara peated single malt
  • Glendalough Double barrel
  • Irishman single malt
  • Kavanagh Single Malt and Single Grain
  • Knappogue Castle Single malt 12 years old
  • Slieve Foy Single malt 8 years
  • Tyrconnell Single Malt

$50 And Over

There are some top quality Irish whiskeys, but if you may have to work hard to hunt them down. You will see many single malts, single grains and aged whiskeys on this list. If you do not find a specific label, you can find a similar label to try out!

$50 And Over
The Irishman Single Malt | Napa Cab

Whiskey /40% ABV / Ireland

This is a classic Irish Malt, triple distilled and aged in Oak Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry Casks to give exceptional flavour and complexity.

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  • Bushmills Single Malt 10 years
  • Connemara cask strength peated single malt
  • Glendalough Single Malt 13 years old
  • Greenore single grain 8 years
  • green spot pot still
  • Irishman single malt 12-year-old
  • Knappogue Castle Single malt 12 years old
  • Powers John’s Lane
  • Redbreast 12 years old
  • Teeling Single Grain and Single Malt
  • Tullamore Dew 12-year-old Special Reserve

Over $100

Although Irish whiskey is relatively inexpensive, some exceptional bottles can reach a high price. They are perfect for special events, to donate as gifts or to reserve a bottle to pour on rare occasions.

Over $100
Bushmills 21 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey | Drizly

Whiskey /46% ABV / Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Aged for twenty-one years in bourbon, sherry and Madeira casks, the 21-year is the best example of Bushmills’ unique single malt credentials and the pinnacle of Irish whiskey. 

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  • Bushmills 1608 and 21 years old
  • Greenore single grain 18 years
  • Jameson 18-year-old, the Golden Reserve and the Rarest Vintage Reserve
  • Kilbeggan 18-year-old
  • Midleton very rare

The History Of Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is produced from barley. Sometimes it’s a combination of barley and malt. This means that it tastes lighter than American whiskey, but it also forms better with its age. Irish distilleries use old barrels and leave their whiskeys for at least three years to get the classic flavor.

In the past, Irish whiskeys were reserved for people who simply did not have such a strong taste, but who now found a new place in cocktails. There is a subtle level of aroma that you will not find in a great American whiskey.

Every spirit has a story, and the Irish whiskey is no different. Some date from the year 1000 AD and Irish monks began distilling barley liquor or oats and used it for medicinal purposes. They named it “uisce beatha” or “blessed water”. The phrase is at the origin of the modern word “whiskey”, which is a good thing to throw the next time you get upset at the bar.

Another note: the whiskey was distilled in Ireland before Scotland. It appears in the historical documentation of the thirteenth century, where it is shown that Henry II of England taxed it.

Queen Elizabeth, I had barrels of it delivered into her yard, and helped it to become fashionable in England; we can only guess if it helped to give the courage to face the Spanish Navy. Russia’s Peter the Great has called it the best spirit in the world, which will not make it popular with modern vodka growers. Among the quality of its production, its delicate aroma and fortuitous (which concerns Ireland) which briefly destroyed the French snack food industry in the 1880s, was the most popular spirit in the world at the turn of the century.

Then the wheels of fate went against it. Technological innovations have allowed competitors to distill whiskey more economically and efficiently than the traditional Irish method.

The Irish War of Independence reduced the export activity to a minimum between 1919 and 1921, and the success of the independence movement prompted England to close its access to the world of Irish whiskey. The United States represented number 2… but it was also closed because of the ban from 1920 to 1933. The Second World War made it continued to deteriorate and, at the end of the conflict, Ireland rose from about 180 distilleries in 1880 to seven.

In particular, Irish whiskey has had a very negative image in the United States until recently. This is partly because, before the Second World War, good things did not come enough to meet demand and pirated whiskey disappeared, because the genuine article had a negative effect on its reputation. Instead, the Scotch conquered the market.

But Irish whiskey has been staging a comeback in recent years, as the palates have become more sophisticated, and the modernization of the Irish economy has left its knowledge and capital to meet growing demand. As a result, people who may not have considered this option a decade or two ago are now increasingly aware of the Irish national spirit.

A precise term for Irish whiskey to keep in mind: Pot Still or in a single pot still, which means that the whiskey is a mixture distilled in a pot with barley, unmalted and malt or green, which produce a particular (delicious) oiliness and spices.

Another significant difference: unlike Scotch Whiskey, Irish whiskeys can add enzymes to help prepare starch for fermentation. However, with regard to aging, such as Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskeys can be aged in a variety of containers: wooden barrels, sherry casks, bourbon casks, rum casks, and so on.

What Makes An Irish Whiskey?

For a spirit called Irish whiskey, it has to be produced in Ireland. It’s the smart answer, but it’s still relevant: to be an Irish whiskey, it has be to aged and distilled in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Not only does it describe a particular mash bill or a way to distill alcohol, but it also has a geographical connection to the country and even its name. Although not all Irish spirits are Irish whiskey, nothing that is not distilled can be called this way.

Most Irish whiskeys start with malted barley and dry in closed ovens. This contrasts with the way Scots creates their characteristic spirit, where Maltese barley dries into peat and gets that traditional flavor. That’s why a lot of people do not like Scotch like Irish whiskey or Bourbon.

Like all whiskeys, it is ground into powder, mixed with water to mash and aged with yeast to begin the fermentation process that turns the sugar in the wort into alcohol. It goes through a distillation process that removes excess water and concentrates the aroma.

Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years or more in wooden barrels and distilled in alcohol at a volume of 94.8% or less. Also, many Irish whiskeys are made with “pot still” whiskey. It is a mash bill that contains malted and unmalted barley.

Finally, Irish whiskey is distilled three times. Most of the Bourbon is distilled once and scotch twice. This triple distillation gives Irish whiskey a smooth consistency and avoids the smoky peat of Scottish whiskey. It produces a lighter and cleaner drink.

A pilgrimage to all the distilleries of Ireland is not a seasonal trip to neighboring Scotland. There are only four: Old Bushmills, Cooley, New Midleton, and Kilbeggan. And indeed, since the reopening of Kilbeggan in 2007, the other three produce the drinks that you will likely find in the stores.

Irish Whiskey Production

The production process of Irish whiskey is similar to that of Scottish whiskey, except that when Scottish whiskey begins with thoroughly milled barley, it starts with a mixture of malt and unmalted barley.

Also, the process is almost identical: barley is dried in an oven, most often without using peat smoke. It is then crushed and immersed in water to ferment. The fermented liquid is distilled (in triplicate for most Irish whiskeys) and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. These barrels can be new or contain wine, Bourbon or rum already enriched. According to the brand, some Irish whiskeys are mixed with wheat whiskey before bottling.


Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, a distillate aging in barrels mainly made from corn. Its name was derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, although the precise inspiration for the whiskey name is uncertain; among the competitors are Bourbon County, Kentucky and Bourbon Street, New Orleans, named after the dynasty. Bourbon has been distilled since the eighteenth century.

The term “bourbon” used in whiskey dates from 1820. It begins in Kentucky in the 1870s. Although Bourbon can be made at any location in the United States, it is strongly associated with the southern United States and Kentucky in particular.

What Makes A Bourbon?

Just as Irish whiskey is the national spirit of Ireland, Bourbon plays this role in the United States. Although it is the national alcohol of the country, it is more explicitly connected to a much smaller area, and the best distilleries are within walking distance to all those wishing to go to the south to see how it has been made.

Bourbon should be produced in the United States, most often in Kentucky. The whiskey has to be made of 51% corn and at most 79% (if it is exceeded, it becomes corn whiskey). Most use maize for about 70% mash bill, with the rest coming from rye or barley wheat. Bourbons are often classified as “wheat” or “rye” depending on the other grain. When you find a bottle you like, it’s useful to see which category they belong to. Both can have very different tastes, and some swear by one or the other.

Once the mash bill is produced and fermented, a process similar to Irish whiskey in the pond, the Bourbon is aged in new charred oak barrels, giving it a vibrant golden color. It is a custom that pre-dates back to colonial America, with the best explanation, since one of the first distillers had partially burned pimples and was too economical to buy new ones. It must be distilled for no more than 160 tests, but bottled for 80 or more proof so that the Bourbon has at least 40% alcohol. If you want it weaker, drink on the rocks or cut it with water.

Unlike Irish whiskey, there is no aging requirement for something to be called Bourbon (although there are requirements for certain types: pure Bourbon, for example, must age for at least two years). Most Bourbons are aged and will proudly tell you that on the label. Keep in mind that in both beverages, maturation ceases once removed from the cask and bottled. Taking this six-month bottle of cheap products and keeping it in the cellar for 20 years is just amazing.

Like Irish whiskey, Bourbon has grown steadily over the past two decades. The increased emphasis on crafts and small-batch bourbons leaves many more options for aficionados and has helped refresh the sector.

While traveling to Ireland to visit whiskey distilleries is the most romantic travel option, do not sell the short Kentucky Bourbon Road. Many people find that traveling to Kentucky to visit the distilleries, conduct taste test, enjoy activities such as sealing a bottle of Mark Makers with wax and perhaps having enough time to play golf is a beautiful way to enjoy a work-free week.

So, one thing that both liquors have in common is that many find it worthwhile to plan a vacation.

How is Bourbon Produced

To be legally sold in the form of Bourbon, the whiskey mash bill requires at least 51% corn, the rest being any cereal grain. Proposal to amend the US regulations will expand the “cereals” authorized to include pseudo-cereal seeds of amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. A mash bill containing wheat instead of rye produces what is called wheat bourbon. Wheat is ground and mixed with water. In general, the addition of a previous distillation is added to ensure consistency between batches, creating purity. Finally, add the yeast, and the mash is fermented.

Distilled usually between 65% and 80% alcohol using a traditional alembic which is much cheaper. Most modern Bourbons are initially runoff using a column still and then distilled into a “doubler” (also called “retort” or “thumper”), which is virtually a pot still.

The resulting transparent spirit, called “white dog”, is placed in new charred oak containers for aging. In practice, these containers are usually American white oak barrels. The spirit draws its color and much of its aroma from the caramelized sugar and vanilla in the charred wood.

The straight Bourbon must be at least two years old, and the mixed Bourbon must contain at least 51% pure bourbon based on one liter of proof (i.e. most of the alcohol in the mixture must be pure Bourbon).  The remainder of the mixed bourbon alcohols may consist of neutral grain alcohols, which have not aged. If a product is labeled as bourbon whiskey instead of a single product or a blend, a minimum specific aging period is not required, only the product has been “stored in a maximum alcohol volume of 62.5% (125 tests) in new carbonated oak containers “.

How Bourbon gets its flavor


The bourbons gain more color and aroma as it ages in the wood. Evaporation and chemical processes such as oxidation also change the spirit. The cheaper bourbons tend to age relatively early. For more expensive Bourbon, the goal is often “maturity”, rather than age, because old Bourbon can negatively affect the taste of Bourbon (making it woody, bitter or unbalanced).

After aging, the Bourbon is removed from the barrel and is usually filtered and diluted with water. Then, it is bottled for no less than 80 US proof (about 40%). Although most bourbon whiskeys are sold for 80 proof in the United States, the other standard proof are 86, 90 and 100.

All bourbons “bottled in bond” are 100 proof. Some high strength bottles are marketed as “barrel proof”, which means they have not been diluted or slightly diluted after being removed from the casks. Bourbon whiskey may be sold for less than 80 proof, but must be marked “diluted bourbon”.

After treatment, the barrels remain saturated with a maximum of 10 liters of Bourbon, although the norm is two to three. They cannot be reused for Bourbon, and most of them are sold in distilleries in Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, and the Caribbean, for the aging of other spirits. Some are used to produce a variety of barrel-aged products, including bourbon cask beer, barbecue sauce, wine, hot sauce, and others, professionally made with bourbon casks. Since 2011, Jim Beam has been using a full barrel wash to extract Bourbon from his used barrels. This extract is mixed with 6-year-old Bourbon to create a product with 90 samples, sold under the name of “Devil’s Cut “.


japanese whisky barrels

The filtration process consists of mixing pure whiskey from different casks (sometimes different distilleries), diluting it in water, mixing it with other ingredients (in case of bourbon mix) and filling containers to obtain the final product marketed to consumers. In itself, the phrase “bottled by” means only that. Only if the bottling company manages the distillery that produced the whiskey can it be “distilled” from the label?

Labeling prerequisite for Bourbon and other alcoholic beverages (including provisions for what may be called Bourbon under US law) are set out in the US Code of Federal Regulations. No whiskey produced outside the United States can be labeled as Bourbon or sold as Bourbon in the States (and in other countries with trade agreements with the United States to recognize Bourbon as a separate product from the United States)

An experiment conducted in 2016 by the Louisville Bourbon Craft Distillery suggests that in the days leading up to the usual bottling of whiskey in the distillery, Kentucky Bourbon had developed a superior flavor because it was transported in barrels, always with water transport system whenever practical.

To test this theory, co-founder Jefferson Trey, Zoeller sent two barrels of the company’s separate product to New York via a barge, first into the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, then into the Intracostero channel. As a check, he brought a lot of the same whiskey that stayed in Louisville during the same period. According to author Jacqueline Detwiler of Popular Mechanics, who documented the evidence, the sample that made the trip on the water “has matured beyond her age, with new flavors of tobacco, vanilla, caramel, and honey. It was one of the best-tasted Bourbon.

The bourbons, which already existed at home, that we drank, were theoretically thought to be sprinkling the whiskey into barrels for a period of 2 to 4 weeks while the journey of the barge resulted in a dramatic improvement in sweetness and taste. Two samples showed significant differences in molecular profiles, the sample being transported by water with a greater diversity of aromatic compounds.

If You Like One, Will You Want The Other?

alcohol bottles

Many people appreciate good Irish whiskey and good Bourbon. There is nothing in the minds that rejects anyone. But both are different enough to allow the majority to develop a preference for each other.

Most Irish whiskeys are milder and lighter drinks than other drinks in this class. Because of its ease, it is unlikely that an Irish whiskey fanatic will think much of a more robust bourbon, especially when drinking it alone.

The opposite is exact: if you like wheat bourbon, for example, Irish whiskey will not be a perfect substitute. And if you want the relative sweetness of corn, you’ll also notice the difference between this and the Irish malt whiskey barley base.

Like A Mixer

If you’re a real fan of Irish whiskey or bourbon, you’ll say it’s best to drink it pure or on ice. It’s hard to argue, and it’s the surest way to have a drink. But for those who like alcohol mixed with something else, both offer options, some traditional and some more modern.

First, there is the traditional soft drink blender. Both work well in these recipes, but do not waste a high-end brand: soda is designed to mask the taste of alcohol. On another note, if you are making a guest a tailgate party or something like that, it’s a great way to enjoy the tough times in a festive atmosphere.

Irish Coffee

irish coffee

There are other more exciting options, but Irish coffee, for example, consists of two parts of Irish whiskey, four parts of hot coffee, one half of thick cream and one teaspoon of Brown sugar. Note that to do it right, you have to heat the whiskey and the coffee. And do not forget the sugar, because it’s the key to a thick cream that floats and drinks coffee through this layer of cream.

With a more festive spirit, there is also the Irish car bomb. A warm party and happy hour in the noisy office melt half a glass of Irish whiskey on half of Bailey’s Irish Cream, so throw the paint in about half a pint of Guinness. Some enterprising bars even fire their drinks, although I can tell you from personal experience that it’s ridiculous if you have one or two if you do not want to light up your kitchen. You must drink quickly when the image is projected, or everything is healed.

If you think that makes it an excuse for people who want to get drunk, you’re right. But at least it’s a fun way to do it. If you think that the name of the drink may offend you, you have the same reason, so it is probably something you would never have asked in Ireland. It’s an American drink.

The cocktails signed by Bourbon are read as a list of American classics. Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Whiskey Sour … are traditionally made with Bourbon as a distinct spirit. If you are not a fan of rye whiskey, then you will say that the traditional version of each one is a rye drink.

Today, however, the most associated bourbon cocktail is probably mint julep. It’s sugar, mint, and Bourbon, and if you go to the Kentucky Derby, you’re the drinker.

The fact that Bourbon is so deeply associated with mint julep does not help, because mint and sugar do nothing to improve the quality of the drink. Do not lose good things if you have finished preparing them, because you turn a big glass into something naughty and minty. Never order one at the bar and expect people to be impressed by that bourbon order.

But if you like the chaos of the Irish car bomb, you will also want to try a specific preparation from a boiler manufacturer. Traditionally, a boilermaker is a bourbon-based drink with a beer that is served together or mixed.

But for a change, try to throw it directly into the beer (called “depth charge”) and drink it. There is less pressure to lower it faster than the Irish car bomb because it will not thicken, but still has the pride and desire to drink.

A note: Bourbon is naturally sweet, thanks to corn dominating the mash bill. Think before adding syrup or a sugary drink, as this would increase the smoothness beyond the comfort level of many.

Bourbon vs Irish Whiskey: Flavor

Bourbon taste: its main characteristic is its softness, but it is also slightly smoked because of charred oak.

Brands to Know: Wild Turkey, Mark’s Maker, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve

Irish whiskey taste: very smooth and less sweet than most American bourbons.

Brands to Know: Jameson, Midleton, Green Spot

FAQs About Bourbon vs Irish Whiskey

What is so different about Irish Whiskey?

Irish whiskey is made from malted and unmalted barley and it can be from 40-94.8% ABV, while bourbon is made from a corn mash and it usually has 80% ABV.

What’s the most famous Irish Whiskey?

The most famous Irish Whiskey that I’m sure it’s present on many parties is Jameson. This Irish whiskey has a gentle honey flavor with malted barley, and it has a reasonable price, making it excellent for frequent drinking.

What is the smoothest bourbon?

Smoothnes is the burn you are feeling on your tongue when you swallow the bourbon. There are plenty of brands that have smooth bourbon whiskey, and some of the best are W.L Weller 12 year old, Maker’s Mark 46, Maker’s Mark and Bernheim Original 07 year old.

How do begginers drink whiskey?

Most whiskey beginners like drinking their whiskey pure without adding ice or water, but there are others who love adding a few ice cubes.


If you reside in the States, you are in a great place to try a delicious Bourbon. Also, don’t go to Ireland searching for Bourbon. Go looking for a fine Irish Whiskey!

Both of these spirits are an awesome choice. They are sweet, very drinkable, clean, on ice or in a mixed drink, and both seem to have new and better options each year. This is the perfect time to be a fan of classic spirits, and Irish whiskey and Bourbon are no exception!

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