Wondering about the differences when it comes to Irish whiskey vs. bourbon?
Join the club!
Many people aren’t sure of the specific differences…or even the fact that they’re both types of whiskey.
And that’s all fine and dandy until it comes time to order a drink.
If you aren’t sure what each tastes like, you run the risk of ordering yo’ self a nasty drink.
And you’ll be in a tough spot because you have to drink it (you just can’t waste whiskey).
To raise the stakes even more, whiskey aficionados will laugh you out of the tasting room if you don’t know the difference between Irish whiskey and bourbon. It’s mean as all get out but true. I’m just warning you.
So, in this article, I’ll equip you to know all the answers when it comes to bourbon vs. Irish whisky.
In just a few moments you’ll be well on your way to becoming a whiskey pro.
What Is Irish Whiskey?
Irish whiskey is a type of whiskey that’s distilled in Ireland from mostly malted and unmalted barley with other grains like rye, and/or wheat. It’s known for having a rich, smooth, and sweet taste and is commonly mixed with soda or used in cocktails.
Along with being made of mostly barley, Irish whiskey is also aged in matured oak casks for a minimum of 3 years and bottled at or above 40% ABV.
Irish whiskey can be found in both blended and single malt varieties, with single malt being the most expensive due to its high quality.
Single malt Irish whiskey comes from one distillery using only malted barley, while blended Irish whiskey combines malted and unmalted barley from multiple distilleries.
Some popular Irish whiskies include Jameson, Bushmills, and Paddy.
Types of Irish Whiskey
There are four main types of Irish whiskey, which vary in ingredients and distillation processes.
1. Single malt – made from 100% malted barley and produced at one distillery in a pot still.
2. Single grain – made at a single distillery in a column still (can still be made with different grains but must contain at least 30% malted barley).
3. Single pot still – distilled in a pot still, and made at one distillery. It has a spicy flavor with at least thirty percent of malted barley and unmalted barley.
4. Blended – a mixture of two or more types of Irish whisky that can be made from different distilleries.
What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is an American whiskey made from at least 51% corn. It’s also aged in new charred oak barrels, must contain no additives, and must be at least 80 proof at bottling.
Bourbon whiskey is known for its sweet vanilla and caramel flavor profile. This sweetness is mostly a result of the corn in the mashbill. It also has a warm, spicy component from the rye and a deep oakiness from the barrel.
It must be made in America, but surprisingly isn’t required to be made in Kentucky (even though most is). States like Tennessee and Indiana also play a role in the production process.
Types of Bourbon
There are 5 main types of bourbon (all of which must be at least 51% corn:
1. Bourbon whiskey – a traditional bourbon without aging requirements
2. Rye – rye-heavy mashbill
3. Wheated – wheat-heavy mashbill
4. Straight – must be aged 2 or more years
5. Bottled-in-bond – must be aged 4 or more years
Bourbon vs. Irish Whiskey: The Key Differences
Origin: Bourbon is made in the United States while Irish Whiskey is made in Ireland.
Mashbill: Bourbon must be made of at least 51% corn while Irish Whiskey uses mostly malted barley.
Aging: Bourbon is aged in new charred oak barrels (usually between 2-4 years) while Irish Whiskey is often aged in previously used bourbon barrels or sherry casks for at least 3 years.
Flavors: Bourbon is usually sweeter and richer than Irish Whiskey. It contains flavors like vanilla, caramel, oak, and brown sugar. Irish Whiskey is less smoky and generally smoother and fruitier than bourbon.
Which Is Better: Irish Whiskey or Bourbon?
This completely depends on your taste preferences. Many say Irish Whiskey like Jamison is delectable when mixed with Ginger Ale because it’s so light, smooth, and easy to drink.
If you want something richer with more complexity, bourbon is for you. It’s not as hard to drink as scotch, but it still has tons of flavor and richness. It is also a surprisingly versatile component in cocktails.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of whiskey. You may find that you love one type, but hate another. You may even find that you love them all.
We Obviously Recommend Bourbon
The Bourbon Inspector is simply always going to choose bourbon.
Sorry, not sorry.
It’s tasty and has incredible complexity. Plus, it’s American-made!
And we made this website to help you explore the wonderful world of bourbon. 🙂
Hunter Branch is the Founder and Director of Editorial for Bourbon Inspector. He has been writing about and professionally reviewing bourbon since 2020 (and has been drinking it for much longer). He’s been able to interview big names in the bourbon industry like Trey Zoeller from Jefferson’s Bourbon and his work has been featured in publications like TastingTable, Mashed, and more.