Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey

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Bourbon Whiskey and Irish Whiskey are, to state the obvious, both whiskeys. The similarities pretty much stop there. They each have fairly explicit rules that define them. Would you like to learn all the details about Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey? Then read on!

Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey. Have you ever wondered what the difference is? Well, I’ve taken an in depth look at both the rules of Bourbon and the rules of Irish Whiskey, and have all the answers for you! Read on!

Bourbon and Irish Whiskey Are Both Whiskeys

To state the obvious, Irish Whiskey and Bourbon (Whiskey) are both whiskeys. The basic rules for whiskey are quite simple. Here is the US version from the Code of Federal Regulation as of February 29, 2023 (Title 27 Chapter 1 Subchapter A Part 5 Subpart Section 5.143):

“The class whisky. “Whisky” or “whiskey” is distilled spirits that is an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of any grain distilled at less than 95 percent alcohol by volume (190° proof) having the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky, stored in oak barrels (except that corn whisky need not be so stored), and bottled at not less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80° proof), and also includes mixtures of such distillates for which no specific standards of identity are prescribed.”

So, as you can see, that definition of whiskey is pretty general. However, as we get into the different types of whiskey, and then the subtypes, things start getting a lot more specific.

Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey - The differences
Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey – What are the differences?
The definition of Bourbon Whiskey
  • All of the rules of whiskey as per the CFR
  • Fermented mash of not less than 51% corn
  • Distillation proof of 160 or less
  • Stored in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less
  • No coloring, flavorings or other additives allowed
  • Must be produced in the United States
Elijah Craig Bourbon -  Barrel Strength 12 Year
Elijah Craig Bourbon 12 Year Old Barrel Strength
The definition of Irish Whiskey

The U.S. Federal Code recognizes Irish Whiskey as per the rules of Ireland. So let’s check those out from the Technical File Setting Out The Specifications With Which Irish Whiskey /. Uisce Beatha Eireannach / Irish Whisky Must Comply from the Food Industry Development Division, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. October 2014 (Ireland)

“Irish Whiskey/Uisce Beatha Eireannach/Irish Whisky” is a spirit distilled on the Island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, from a mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals and which has been:

  • (a) saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes;
  • (b) fermented by the action of yeast;
  • (c) distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the materials used;
  • (d) subject to the maturation of the final distillate for at least three years in wooden casks, such as oak, not exceeding 700 litres capacity.
  • The distillate, to which only water and plain caramel colouring may be added, retains its colour, aroma and taste derived from the production process referred to in points (a) to (d).
  • Must be produced in Ireland
Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey ( Cask Strength)
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It Gets More Complicated

So those are the basic rules for each spirit, but they both get considerably more complicated. Both Irish Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey have different subtypes. For Bourbon, the subtypes generally just vary in their requirements of age, and possibly state of origin. However, Irish Whiskey has 3 distinct subtypes which differ in their composition and process: Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Malt Irish Whiskey and Grain Irish Whiskey. These are discussed in detail in our article, “What Is Irish Whiskey?“.

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The Differences Between Bourbon Whiskey & Irish Whiskey

Let’s get back to the focus of our main topic, the differences between Bourbon Whiskey & Irish Whiskey. There are many finer points other than just the basics listed above. The easiest way to look at them is in table form:

Bourbon WhiskeyIrish Whiskey
Must be produced in the USMust be produced on the island of Ireland
Distilled to 160 proof (80% ABV) or less"Distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume"
Must be stored in new charred oak barrelsMust be aged "in wooden casks, such as oak" (may be new or used)
No size maximum for barrels is givenCasks "not exceeding 700 litres"
Barrel entry proof of 125 (62.5% ABV) or lessBarrel entry proof not specified
No Minimum AgeMust age at least 3 Years
Must be aged in the U.S.Must be aged in Ireland
No additivesCaramel coloring allowed (E150a)
Can be exported in oak barrels (as far as I know)Can not be exported in wooden barrels
Bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% ABV)Bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% ABV)
Mash bill must be at least 51% cornMash bill is complicated and depends on type, but malted/unmalted barley is generally the dominant cereal grain
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So, There You Have It – The differences between Bourbon Whiskey and Irish Whiskey (Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey)

So those are the differences between Bourbon Whiskey & Irish Whiskey. As you can see, while they both follow the basic rules of whiskey, the similarities pretty much stop there. As for Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey, which you prefer is a personal choice! I happen to love them both! Cheers (aka Sláinte)!?

We hope you have enjoyed our explanation of the differences between Bourbon Whiskey and Irish Whiskey! Do you want to know what they are like when mixed together? Check out our Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Review! Or, learn more about out an Irish Whiskey with a Kentucky spin in our Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition Review! For a more detailed look into the rules of Irish Whiskey and its variants, read our article “What Is Irish Whiskey?”!

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