Bourbon is an American Whiskey produced mainly in the southern part of Kentucky State.
What Is Bourbon?
According to US Trade Legislation, “bourbon” is a type of whiskey where the “mashbill”—the recipe of grains used to produce the whiskey—consists of 51% - 80% corn. Typically, distillers use approximately 70% corn content and can choose other grains for the remainder of the mashbill. The type of grain used will affect the style and flavors of the whiskey.
There are specific guidelines that distillers must follow to put the word bourbon on the label.
The Process - Most bourbon starts with sour mash. It is taken from a previous batch of mash (crushed grain going through the fermentation process), set out to sour overnight, and then added to a new batch. The process is much like that of starting a sourdough bread.
The Recipe - Bourbon is distilled from a fermented mash of grain, yeast and water. The “mash bill” must have a minimum of 51% corn. For most bourbons, the average is about 70%. Other grains such as rye, malted barley, and wheat are considered “flavor” grains.
Length of Aging - Bourbon must be aged for at least two years. Many premium bourbons on the market are aged between 5 and 12, with some as long as 27 years.
The Barrel - Bourbon must be aged in brand-new barrels made of white oak and charred on the inside. Brands determine the varying char levels for their barrels from 1 to 4.
Flavor – By law, nothing can be added at bottling except water. Nothing is added that might enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color.
Proof - Bourbon is bottled at between 80 and 125 proof. Only water may be used to lower the proof of the alcohol.
Location – Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US. Only whiskey produced in the State of Kentucky can be called labeled Kentucky Straight Whiskey.
- Knob Creek (rye content approx. 30%)
- Jim Beam
- Wild Turkey
- Evan Williams
Rye is the second grain used in Bourbon, it adds dry, spicy, peppery flavors to the whiskey's character. Examples of Bourbons with high rye content include
- Basil Hayden’s
- Buffalo Trace
- Eagle Rare
- George T. Stagg
- Old Forester
- Old Grand-Dad
- Woodford Reserve
- Four Roses Single Barrel
Wheat adds elegance and a soft, smooth character, often with hints of nuts and cinnamon. Whiskeys with high wheat content include
- Maker’s Mark
- Old Fitzgerald
- Old Rip Van Winkle, or Pappy Van Winkle
- Rebel Yell
- WL Weller
A bourbon is also distinct from a whiskey in other ways:
- The bourbon leaves the still at no higher than 80% alcohol by volume.
- The bourbon enters new charred white oak casks for aging at no higher than 62.5% abv.
- The bourbon is bottled at no less than 40% abv.
- The bourbon is flavored by nothing other than water—this means the Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon!
- The bourbon must state its age on the label if the maturation time is less than four years.
Check out our Bourbon Glossary as you choose your next whiskey!
Popular Bourbon Eats
What to pair with your bourbon whiskey? Visit Bourbon Eats for some delicious inspiration and popular recipes!