What is bourbon? Bourbon is a type of whiskey, much the way that champagne is a type of wine. You may have heard that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. It has been stated that it must be made in the United States for whiskey to classify as bourbon. While any state will do, bourbons are largely made in Kentucky.
Per the American Bourbon Association, to be classified as bourbon, a whiskey needs to be distilled from an all-natural mixture of grains, or mash, that’s at least 51 percent corn with no additives. The corn is what gives bourbon its distinctive sweetness.
Besides corn, the other grains used in bourbon-making include malted barley and either rye or wheat. Kentucky bourbon makers credit the limestone spring water found in the area, giving bourbon its distinctive flavor.
Bourbon must age in a new, charred, oak barrel. Most bourbons age in the barrel anywhere from two to four years, while premium bourbons may age twelve years or more. However, many bourbons are aged four years or longer. Bourbon gains its color and much of its flavor from barrel aging. The charred wood provides caramelized sugars that add flavor to the spirit.
Bourbon barrels are uniquely stored on their side, allowing air to flow through the barrel in multi-story warehouses called rick houses. The wood barrels expand and contract based on the four seasons. Summer heat causes the pores of the wood to open and impart flavor from the char and oak. Barrels on the top floor may have a different taste than those on lower floors.
The barrels can only be used once for bourbon. Bourbon Barrel Foods reuses the bourbon barrels for aging Bluegrass Soy Sauce and slow-smoking spices. Many used bourbon barrels will end up across the United States for wine, beer, and even furniture-making, or the United Kingdom for brewing Scotch.
National Bourbon Day is on June 14th – we are celebrating with a collection of Bourbon Provisions, Recipes. And don’t forget to #eatyourbourbon!