What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American Whiskey, it is a distilled spirit that is primarily made from corn and aged in barrels. Bourbon takes its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it originated. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the USA but it is strongly associated with the state of Kentucky. Bourbon has several legal requirements for it to be made for US consumption.

Bourbon must be:

  • Made from a grain mixture that must be at least 51% corn
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof and 80% ABV.
  • Aged in new charred-oak barrels
  • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof or 62.5% ABV.
  • It must be bottled at 80 proof or more or 40% ABV.

Bourbon has no minimum age requirements.

How should you enjoy bourbon?

I always recommend everyone try each bourbon neat, this is the way the distiller created it and intended for it to be enjoyed, after you try it neat make some adjustments until you find what works best for you and for each bourbon, add ice, a splash of water, or mix a classic cocktail.

Bourbon Terms

Mash Bill: A mash bill is simply a bourbon recipe. Most bourbons are a mix of wheat, corn, rye, and occasionally barley.

Age Statement: A disclaimer that shows you the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Any bourbon that is older than four years is not required by law to list its age on the bottle.

Straight Bourbon: Straight Bourbon must be at least two years old. If it is older than two but younger than four it must carry an age statement on its bottle that reflects the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Straight Bourbon can not include any artificial colors or flavors.

High Rye: A bourbon in which the second major ingredient is rye is known as a high-rye bourbon. Rye is a spicier and richer grain than either corn or wheat, and high-rye bourbons are usually spicier and richer as a result.

Wheated Bourbon: A bourbon in which the second major ingredient is wheat is known as a wheated bourbon. Wheated bourbons are sweeter than other bourbons.

Sour Mash: Sour mash whiskey is made by taking a portion of previously used mash and adding it to a fresh batch. This makes the mash taste sour, but will not affect the flavor of the finished whiskey. The Sour mash process helps ensure consistency from batch to batch and  lowers the pH of the batch, leading to more efficient fermentation.

Bottle Proof: Before bourbon is bottled it is diluted with water to bottling proof. 80 proof or 40% alcohol by volume is the lowest a bourbon can be diluted to and still be called a bourbon. Adding water is a way to stretch the supply of bourbon, making it less expensive to produce. Bourbons are sold at various proofs such as 90, 95, 100, or higher.

Cask Strength: Cask strength bourbon is undiluted. Whatever proof it comes out of the barrel at is what you get in the bottle. Cask strengths vary from barrel to barrel, based on a number of factors, such as warehouse placement, weather conditions, to name a few. Evaporation plays a big part in the final proof. If more alcohol evaporates out it will be a lower proof, If more water evaporates it will be higher.

2 thoughts on “What is Bourbon?

  1. Mike MIlls

    Please check your explaination of “Cask Strength”, I think it should read …” Whatever proof it comes out of the bottle (barrel) at is what you get in the bottle.

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