• Barrell Craft Spirits

IS TENNESSEE WHISKEY BETTER THAN KENTUCKY WHISKEY?



IS TENNESSEE WHISKEY BETTER THAN KENTUCKY WHISKEY?

Every type of whiskey can be great–or, conversely, can be uninspiring. Not every Kentucky bourbon or single malt Scotch is a star, sadly, and there are some killer blended whiskies out there. It all comes down to the details. And when it comes to Tennessee whiskey versus Kentucky bourbon, those details are rather subtle.


WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Both Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys are American whiskeys that must be produced in the United States. Most, but not all, whiskey made in Kentucky is bourbon (and bourbon, contrary to popular belief, can be produced anywhere in the United States, not just Kentucky). Tennessee produces both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, the latter of which actually does have to be produced in the state of Tennessee.


Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey have a lot in common. Both must be made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels, and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), among other things. Tennessee whiskey, however, has an extra step. Before it’s filled into the cask for the aging process, it undergoes a maple charcoal “mellowing process” that consists of filtering the new make through sugar maple charcoal.


Depending on who you talk to, this charcoal filtering process–which is referred to as the “Lincoln County Process”–accomplishes almost nothing, or it’s a critical part of what gives famous Tennessee whiskey brands like Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel their particular flavor.


SO WHICH IS BETTER?

The flavor differences between Tennessee whiskey and straight bourbon are subtle. The extra filtration provided by the Lincoln County Process has the potential to remove some of the heavier compounds from the new make, giving the final aged product a mellower, smoother vibe.


That effect depends on how much filtration actually takes place. The state laws outlining the Lincoln County process don’t stipulate how much charcoal the white dog actually has to “mellow” through. It could be a brief encounter with a small number of charcoal chips, or it could be Jack Daniel’s famously extensive “3-5 day filtration process” which passes the unaged whiskey through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal.


It’s hard to say that one approach or another produces “better” whiskey, but they’d certainly produce different whiskeys–and your palate might prefer one over the other. The only way to know for sure whether you prefer Tennessee whiskey, bourbon, or even–gasp–rye whiskeys is to try them for yourself.


Fortunately for you, Barrell Craft Spirits makes it easy to get acquainted with some of the best bourbons in the world. You can shop all of our award-winning spirits online, including small batch bourbons, single casks, and distinctive whiskeys like Dovetail and Seagrass. Some of our recent favorites include:


Barrell Bourbon New Year 2022

We release a bourbon to commemorate every new year. 2022’s release is a selection of 5, 6, 7, 9, and 14-year-old straight bourbon whiskeys from a whopping seven different states. It’s a delicious combination of sweet desserts, tart cherry acidity, and mineral freshness.


Barrell Seagrass in partnership with the Ocean Foundation

The remarkable fresh, grassy flavors of Barrell Seagrass were inspired by a trip to the seaside, so it’s only fitting that we partnered with the Ocean Foundation to help reverse the trend of the destruction of ocean environments around the world. A portion of the proceeds of every bottle of Seagrass sold with an Ocean Foundation hangtag will be donated to this important cause.


Barrell Bourbon Batch 031

Our thirty-first release of small-batch bourbon is a blend of six, seven, 10, 15, and 16-year-old bourbons from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. Bottled at 111.2 proof, it’s a delicious blend of sweetness, nuttiness, chocolate, and fruit.


Visit our website for more, including a map tool that helps you find a retailer near you, and an online shop that makes buying bourbon easy.