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Difference Between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon

Picking the right kind of whiskey is no mean feat. Whiskeys come in different variants depending on the regional differences that make each whiskey unique. It can be Canadian, Australian, Japanese, Ireland, American whiskey and so on that are unique to their regions and then there are variables within these to choose from. But what makes such similar-like products different? In this article, we look at American whiskeys. Tennessee whiskeys and bourbons are very similar yet very different though they hail from neighboring states in the same region.

So, what makes these two different? Let’s find out.

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee whiskey refers to a type of straight whisky produced in the US specifically in the state of Tennessee. Straight whiskey, according to US laws, refers to a whiskey that has been distilled from a fermented grain mash that does not exceed 80% alcohol by volume (ABV) and aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels at a concentration not greater than 62.5% at the start of the aging process. The Tennessee whiskey, however, must undergo a filtering process known as the Lincoln County Process which refers to filtering the spirit through layers of charcoal before the aging process. Tennessee whiskey is said to have been invented by Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green who taught it to Jack Daniels, a founder of Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey. 

Characteristics of Tennessee Whiskey

  • Made in the US in Tennessee state
  • Must be made from a grain mixture that is 51% corn
  • Must be distilled to no more than 160(US) proof, a measure of alcohol content that is equivalent to 80% alcohol by volume (ABV).


Bourbon is also an American whiskey. It’s made from corn. It derives its name from a European royal house of French origin though the exact inspiration is uncertain. The name began to be used in the 1850s. Although bourbon can be made anywhere in the USA, it’s mainly associated with the southern part and particularly the state of Kentucky. Bourbon made in America must be 51%corn and stored in a new container of charred oak. The invention of bourbon is often attributed to Philip Craig, a Baptist minister.

Characteristics of Bourbon

  • Must be made in the USA and Territories 
  • Must be made from a grain mixture that is 51% corn
  • Aged in new charred oak containers
  • Must be distilled to no more than 160 (US) proof which is equivalent to 80% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Put into the charred oak container for aging at no more than 125 proof, which is 62.5% alcohol by volume.
  • Bottled at 80 proof or more, which is 40% or more alcohol by volume.

Similarities between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon

  • Both must be prepared from a grain mixture that is 50% corn
  • Both must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume
  • Both must undergo aging in new charred oak barrels at a concentration not exceeding 62.5% ABV
  • Both are bottled at 40% ABV or more.

Differences between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon

Geographical Region

Tennessee whiskey is made in Tennessee state of the US while Bourbon is made from anywhere in the US but particularly in the state of Kentucky


Tennessee whiskey was first invented by Nathan Nearest Green who taught it to Jack Daniels and bourbon was invented by Elijah Craig in 1789.

Lincoln County Process

Tennessee whiskey undergoes filtration through maple charcoal in the Lincoln County Process during its preparation while this process is absent in Bourbon preparation.


Tennessee whiskey must undergo the aging process for a minimum of 2 years before being released into the market while the aging process for bourbon can be as little as three months except for straight bourbon which has a minimum of 2 years of aging.


Tennessee whiskey is sweeter and smoother in texture as a result of the Lincoln County filtration process. Its taste is more refined than that of bourbon. Bourbon however holds the caramel taste from corn and the vanilla, oaky taste from the charred oaks.


In Tennessee whiskey preparation, coloring and flavoring are allowed while in bourbon it’s prohibited except for blended straight bourbons.


Tennessee whiskey is drunk as liquor and also used on a less scale for cooking. Bourbon is drunk as liquor, is more widely known for cooking and confectionaries. It is also used traditionally for medicinal purposes.

Tennessee Whiskey vs. Bourbon: Comparison Table

Tennessee Whiskey vs. Bourbon: Summary

In a nutshell, Tennessee whiskey is different from bourbon. It is smoother and sweeter and we’ve seen the scientific explanation. That does not mean the bourbon you have been taking is bad, far from it. It only means that on your next visit to the liquor store, you can try out smooth Tennessee Whiskeys and who knows; you might find it to be your new catch of favorite whiskeys.


Is Tennessee whiskey the same as bourbon?

No, Tennessee whiskey is not the same as bourbon. Tennessee Whiskey preparation involves a Lincoln County filtration process which is absent in Bourbon preparation, among other differences. 

 Can Tennessee whiskey be called bourbon

Yes, Tennessee whiskey can be called bourbon as it meets all the requirements of bourbon.

All Tennessee whiskey can be called bourbon, but not all bourbon can be called Tennessee whiskey. 

Is Tennessee whiskey smoother than bourbon?

Yes, Tennessee whiskey is smoother than bourbon. This is as a result of the Lincoln County filtration Process that is absent in bourbon.

Is Jack Daniels a whiskey or bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s is a whiskey as it’s one of the brands of Tennessee whiskey

 Is Crown Royal bourbon?

No, the crown royal is made in Canada with a different mixture of corn (64%), malted barley (4.5%), and rye (31.5%). Bourbons are made in America and must have 51% corn as a base.

What whiskey can you only get in Tennessee?

You can only get Tennessee Whiskey in Tennessee.

What is the difference in taste between whiskey and bourbon?

Whiskey varies in taste, depending on the type it is. It could be Japanese, Irish, American, Tennessee Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, mention. Bourbon has strong combinations of vanilla, oak, and caramel. 

Is whiskey only made in Tennessee?

No, whiskey is made in other parts of the world as well.

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References :

[0]Richard Thomas. American Whiskey: Over 300 whiskeys and 30 distillers tell the story of the nation's spirit. Simon and Schuster, 2019. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=g-vZDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA29&dq=Difference+between+Tennessee+Whiskey+and+Bourbon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjg6te7l8jzAhV1_7sIHQbYCroQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=Difference%20between%20Tennessee%20Whiskey%20and%20Bourbon&f=false

[1]Michael R. Veach. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. University Press of Kentucky, 2013. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=UgdG33sI7K8C&pg=PT82&dq=Difference+between+Tennessee+Whiskey+and+Bourbon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjg6te7l8jzAhV1_7sIHQbYCroQ6AF6BAgGEAI#v=onepage&q=Difference%20between%20Tennessee%20Whiskey%20and%20Bourbon&f=false

[2]Perry Luntz. Whiskey and Spirits For Dummies. University Press of Kentucky, 2013. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=oJdRxl7-l4QC&pg=PA107&dq=Difference+between+Tennessee+Whiskey+and+Bourbon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjg6te7l8jzAhV1_7sIHQbYCroQ6AF6BAgLEAI#v=onepage&q=Difference%20between%20Tennessee%20Whiskey%20and%20Bourbon&f=false

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jim_Beam_Bourbon_PL.JPG

[4]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_Daniel%27s_Old_No._7_1,14l.jpg

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