The difference between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon is more than geographic. It’s about a method. It’s about history. And it’s about slavery.
What is the difference between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon?
Tennessee. Specifically, that Tennessee Whiskey must be made in Tennessee, which ought to be obvious.
Yeah, but what is the difference between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon?
Sugar maple. Specifically, the charred sugar maple ricks used in the Lincoln County Method which is the second thing distinguishing Tennessee Whiskey from Bourbon. The image below is a bonfire of sugar maple ricks being fired. Once they’ve been sufficiently charred, they are broken down into smaller chunks. Then whiskey is filtered through them before being barreled in charred oak barrels. Of course there’s more to the method, but this is the Lincoln County Method in a nutshell.
What is the difference between Jack Daniels and Jim Beam?
Jack Daniels is a sour mash Tennessee Whiskey (see above). Jim Beam is a Kentucky Bourbon. In case you can’t tell from my discreet use of the words TENNESSEE and KENTUCKY, the two spirits are distilled in different states.
Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon taste different
This difference, however, is mostly subjective. I can write a thousand ways how Tennessee Whiskey is like Bourbon, but mellower, as if the volatile gasses of Bourbon have burned off. Perhaps I might write how the taste bears the memory of the charred sugar maple, but not the actual flavor of it. I could say it’s smooth. But that seems to mean Bourbon is harsh and it’s not. I could tell you Bourbon tastes like an old library book about your grandad’s old pipe tobacco and brown sugar.
But what does that really mean to you? Say you pick up some cheap-ass Bourbon and it tastes like a boat fire. Or you get some weak Tennessee Whiskey and it tastes like an ashtray? Those are your flavor indicators. No one can change that for you. The flavor of whiskey is a construct. It is context. How you experience it is the journey you take within that construct. Whiskey is the map. Taste is the trip.