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Erin Rosar
September 2, 2014 | Whisky | Erin Rosar

​Bourbon – An Introduction

Article by Evan Eckersley

Bourbon - like pretty much any other whisk(e)y – has a long and confusing history full of mythinformation and half-truths. 

Let’s deal with the basics. There are concrete guidelines for Bourbon production and these are what make Bourbon… Bourbon. These rules include:

  1. Bourbon can only be made within the United States. Around 95 percent of Bourbon is currently produced in Kentucky but there are other states that have distilleries crafting Bourbon as well. You may find a Bourbon from Colorado, Indiana, California, or even Washington. Most Bourbon made in Kentucky will be called (wait for it…) Kentucky Bourbon.
  2. Must be 51% corn. The ‘Mash Bill’ as it is called will typically have other grains within it as well, but corn will make up the majority of the mash. Whatever part of the mash is not corn is typically made up of some combination of barley, rye, and/or wheat.
  3. This mash is fermented into what is known as ‘Distiller’s Beer’ before eventually being twice distilled to a much higher proof. This cannot exceed 160 proof, or 80% alcohol.
  4. Before being put into barrel for aging, the new distillate – also known as ‘White Dog’ – must be cut down to 125 proof (62.5% alcohol).
  5. These barrels must also be new (never filled before) and their insides charred. It is usually American White Oak used in the creation of these barrels.  
  6. For regular bourbon there is actually no requirement for how long it must age in barrel. For it to be called Straight Bourbon it must spend at least 2 years in oak before being bottled. Any Straight Bourbon that is not at least 4 years old must state its age on the bottle label.
  7. Unlike some other whiskies from around the world no flavourings or other spirits can be added to a bourbon before bottling. They can add water – which is usually done to cut the alcohol percentage, but that is it.
  8. Like other whisk(e)y, bourbon must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40% Alcohol).

These rules are what make Bourbon unique and separate it from other styles of whisk(e)y made both in America itself and in other parts of the world.

Did you know: Tennessee Whiskey is also considered Bourbon. It is made in the same way and It adheres to the same regulations. What sets it apart (other than specifically coming from Tennessee) is that it goes through another step in the production that bourbon does not. This step is called the ‘Lincoln County Process’. This process involves either filtering or steeping the white dog or new make spirit though charcoal chips or pellets before it is put in the barrel for aging. This helps remove impurities from the whiskey.

On the shelf you will find a few different styles of bourbon. These can include:

Small Batch – Refers to the bottle coming from a small batch of barrels that were vatted together before being bottled. Different brands and distilleries have varying ideas on how ‘small’ the batch has to be to qualify.

Examples – Bakers, Four Roses Small Batch, Knob Creek Small Batch

Single Barrel – This means the whiskey in the bottle came from a single barrel. Many times the bottle will have some numbering on it noting how many bottles came from that barrel. Many times these are release at a higher proof or even at cask strength, but not always.

Examples – Four Roses Single Barrel, Blanton’s Single Barrel, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit

Cask Strength or Barrel Proof – If you see this it means that the bourbon was not cut or diluted with water to a lower proof before being bottled. The whiskey is the same proof that it came out of the barrel at.

Examples – Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Booker’s

Bourbon is a big ingredient used in many classic cocktails. Here are few that are definitely worth trying out:


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