All About Bourbon

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What is bourbon?

Simply put, bourbon is a whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn, with a mixture of rye, wheat and barley filling out the rest. Much like tequila, creating bourbon must follow a strict set of guidelines. By law, a bourbon must be distilled at no more than 160 proof, barreled at no greater than 125 proof in new, charred oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof. Also, to be considered a “Straight” bourbon, it must be aged at least 2 years, and must be displayed on the bottle if aged less than 4 years. This is similar to Bottled in Bond bourbon which follows the strict guidelines of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. This all-American liquor was first distilled back in the late 1700’s and shipped all over the South in charred oak barrels to help eliminate any bacteria. The charred barrels helped give the whiskey its distinct color and flavor during transport. These barrels, mostly coming from Bourbon County, Kentucky, were labeled “Bourbon County Whiskey” and thus began the legend of bourbon as we know it. Bourbon has not only been the Spirit of the South since the 18th century, but it has also been the official spirit of the United States since 1964.

Sourced & Certified bourbons from ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

How is bourbon made?

Bourbon is made with a combination of corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, which are mashed and milled to produce a mixture that is then combined with water. After this mixture is fermented and yeast is added, the product is distilled to produce a highly alcoholic spirit. This unaged liquor is poured into new, charred oak barrels where is it aged, giving the liquor its natural color and flavor. While this is the generic process for making bourbon, it is known to be produced in 6 different styles: Single Barrel, Cask Strength, Wheated, High Rye, High Corn and Small Batch.

Single Barrel bourbon comes from a ‘single barrel’ and it is not mixed or blended with any other barrels. Cask Strength, which is known for being the most flavorful type of bourbon, is not watered down to the desired proof, but instead comes straight out of the cask with high proof and tons of spice and burn. Wheated bourbons use wheat as an additional ingredient to reduce the spicy and sometimes sour taste. A great example of this is the Smooth Ambler Wheat Bourbon. Next, we have High Rye. Most bourbons are made with at least 10% rye; however, High Rye bourbons can have a lot more, like the High West Double Rye Whiskey, giving them a spicier and richer taste. High Corn bourbons are made over the 51% corn requirement and can even contain upwards of 100% corn, like the Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Lastly, we have Small Batch bourbons. These types of bourbons, like the Cooper’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey, are made by mixing only a small number of select barrels, rather than hundreds or thousands.

Pouring a glass of Quarter Horse Bourbon.What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey?

As the saying goes, all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. While bourbons need to be produced in the United States, whiskey is made all over, with varietals made in Japan, Scotland and Canada. Another difference is that bourbon is required to be stored in new, charred oak barrels, whereas whiskey does not need to be aged in new or charred barrels. Whiskey can also be distilled at no more than 190 proof which is stronger than the 160 proof needed for bourbon. Lastly, whiskey does not have to meet the 51% corn requirement that bourbon does.

Here at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, we offer a wide selection of Sourced & Certified wine and spirit brands. Our team of experts meet with winemakers and distillers to find you unique offerings. The Sourced & Certified stamp represents our guarantee of quality and source-to-guest savings. You can enjoy Sourced & Certified bourbons like Quarter Horse (pictured above), Cooper’s Mark, Zackariah Harris and more, exclusively at ABC in Florida!

Kentucky Bourbon stored in new, charred oak barrels.

How to drink bourbon

Unsure how to get the most out of your bourbon? We are here to help you! The pleasant, smooth notes of bourbon allow it to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. This means bourbon can be enjoyed at room temperature or chilled with ice. Think neat bourbon is too strong for you? Some bourbon connoisseurs enjoy adding a few drops of water to their bourbon to help open the aromas and dilute some of the strength. Bourbon is also a fantastic spirit for mixing into cocktails like a classic Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Maybe you think you are already a bourbon expert, but have you ever thought about the glass you are drinking your fine bourbon in? Glassware can make a huge difference when enjoying bourbon. If you want to capture wonderful aromas of vanilla, honey and caramel and flavors of apple, citrus and spices in your bourbon, a simple shot glass will not enhance these notes. Many experts recommend using a curved vessel, like a Glencairn, to direct the aromas towards you as you drink, providing a more intense overall drinking experience. Looking to dive into the bourbon world? We’ve put together lists of our favorite bourbons and bourbon recipes for you to start your journey.

What is National Bourbon Heritage Month?

National Bourbon Heritage Month has been observed each September in the United States since 2007, when the United States Senate passed a resolution to celebrate the uniquely American spirit. America’s distilling industry dates back to before the start of the nation when English colonist George Thorpe distilled the first batch of corn whiskey in Virginia. The tradition of distilling in Virginia was continued by none other than Founding Father George Washington, who ran the largest whiskey distillery during the early years of the United States. Bourbon became recognized as a distinctive United States product in 1964 by Congress. Now, as we kick off fall and the start of cooler seasons, we raise a glass to America’s exclusive brand of whiskey and cheers all month long.

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