Is Jack Daniels Whiskey or Bourbon?

Abbey Miller
Published on
by Abbey Miller

For all of Jack Daniel’s acclaim and widespread recognition, even this renowned libation isn’t safe from a spirited debate or two calling into question its alcohol identity.

Is Jack Daniels Whiskey or Bourbon?

Some claim it with the conviction of a bourbon connoisseur, while others swear it’s the poster child for Tennessee whiskey, which brings us to the question we plan to clear up: Is Jack Daniels a whiskey or a bourbon?

Whiskey and Bourbon Defined

Shots of Whiskey

Before we pour over the specifics of Jack Daniels, let’s first take a quick detour to understand the key terms whiskey and bourbon.

The spelling of whiskey varies depending on the country: in Scotland and Canada, it’s whisky, while in other places, it’s whiskey. This alcoholic drink is made by distilling fermented grains such as barley, rye, corn, or wheat. The drink gets its distinctive color and flavor from being stored in wooden barrels, usually charred white oak ones.

Depending on a particular distillery’s grain bill and aging process, we have different whiskey styles, ranging from peat-rich Scotch to triple-distilled Irish style and everything in between.


Within the broad category of whiskey lies a distinctly American spirit– bourbon. While bourbon is a type of whiskey, not all whiskey can be bourbon.

The Bourbon Criteria

Bourbon has to meet stringent regulations set by the 1964 Senate Concurrent Resolution 19 to earn its distinction from other whiskies.

While these laws were finalized in the 60s, they began with President William H. Taft’s declaration in the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. They underwent further refinement by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1938 provisions in the New Deal regarding barrel size and aging.

Modern bourbon distillers continue to follow these half-century-old legal guidelines to earn the official seal of approval for their all-American spirit.

  1. Made in the U.S.A: Though we typically associate it with Kentucky, bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States or its territories, including Puerto Rico and D.C.
  2. Mash Bill: The mash bill, or grain mixture, must consist of at least 51% corn, giving bourbon its distinctively sweet, full-bodied flavor.
  3. Distillation Proof: The spirit cannot be distilled to more than 160 U.S. proof, or 80% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  4. Barrel Entry Proof: When the liquid mash goes into the barrel for maturing, it cannot be higher than 125 proof, or 62.5% ABV.
  5. New Charred Oak Barrels: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels. This rule is responsible for bourbon’s beautiful amber color and a large part of its distinct flavor. The charring caramelizes the sugars in the wood, which the bourbon absorbs.
  6. No Additives: No color, flavor, or other spirits can taint bourbon’s flavor. Instead, it must come from the grain recipe, yeast, fermentation process, and aging.
  7. Aging: While there’s no minimum specified aging period for bourbon in general, to be called “straight” bourbon, it must mature for at least two years. The duration must be stated on the bottle if aged less than four years.

These are the playground rules for every bourbon maker’s creativity, and they use them as a launching board to craft a liquor that reflects their artistic vision.

Does Jack Daniels Meet the Bourbon Criteria?

So, what about Jack Daniels? Does this liquor hailing from Lynchburg, Tennessee measure up against our bourbon barometer?

  • Made in the U.S.A? Check. Jack Daniels is proudly American, crafted in the Volunteer State.
  • Mash Bill? Check. Jack Daniels’ grain bill is approximately 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye, more than satisfying bourbon’s 51% corn requirement.
  • Distillation Proof? Check. Jack Daniels is distilled at less than 160 proof.
  • Barrel Entry Proof? Check. The spirit enters the barrel at 125 proof, aligning with bourbon standards.
  • New Charred Oak Barrels? Check. Jack Daniels matures in new, charred American white oak barrels, the same type that gives bourbon its golden hue and vanilla-caramel undertones.
  • No Additives? Check. Just like its bourbon brethren, Jack Daniels contains no additives.
  • Aging? Check. While Jack Daniels doesn’t carry an age statement, it matures for at least four years.

At first glance, Jack Daniels comfortably checks all the bourbon boxes.

However, a little plot twist called the Lincoln County Process adds a layer of intrigue to the Jack Daniels story and fuels the fiery debate over its official categorization.

The Lincoln County Process

Just when you thought you had it all figured out, enter the Lincoln County Process, a method of filtering the distilled spirit through a thick layer of sugar maple charcoal before undergoing barrel aging.

This mellowing process strips away some impurities and gives the whiskey a smoother, more refined flavor. It also subtly imparts a sweet, smoky character, distinguishing Jack Daniels from its bourbon counterparts.

But here’s where the waters of classification become murky. While the Lincoln County Process doesn’t technically disqualify Jack Daniels from being a bourbon, it does qualify it for another specific title: Tennessee Whiskey.

That means while all bourbons could technically be Tennessee whiskeys if they undergo this process, not all Tennessee whiskeys can be bourbons unless they also meet the bourbon criteria, as Jack Daniels does.

The Final Verdict: Is Jack Daniels Whiskey or Bourbon?

Now that we’ve navigated the mess of whiskey classifications laws and the unique production process of Jack Daniels, it’s time to make a call: Is Jack Daniels whiskey or bourbon?

The answer is, technically, both. Jack Daniels meets all the requirements to be considered a bourbon. However, its adherence to the Lincoln County Process, a trademark of Tennessee whiskey production, lands it squarely in the Tennessee whiskey category.

By labeling itself a Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniels underscores its commitment to the Lincoln County Process and its dedication to a distinctive flavor profile that sets it apart from the nation’s other bourbons.

Thus, Jack Daniels has been the poster child for Tennessee whiskey for over 150 years, sticking steadfastly to its time-honored production methods, including the Lincoln County Process, while providing an unmatched bourbon imbibement experience.

So, enjoy the smoothness, relish the flavors, and let the debate over classification be little more than an intriguing footnote to your enjoyment of this exceptional spirit.

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Abbey Miller
Abbey Miller
Abbey grew up in a family with an appreciation for great beers, fine wines, and nuanced Scotch whiskeys. It's no surprise that she studied Hospitality Management and is now a professional working on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.
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