Gentlemen, today we will investigate, briefly, the age old question of what differentiates a Bourbon from a Whiskey.
And, as it turns out there are actually a good many stipulations that get attached to these alcohols. We are not going to worry about most of them but are instead going to hit on three major differences and one major misconception. For a full legal description of each type of alcohol check out this link.
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Bourbon is one of the most patriotic alcohols on the market. This liquor is the United States gift to the world. Bourbons must to made in the United States.
Bourbons must contain at least 51% corn mash and not exceed 160 proof; the mash is where the liquor gets its sugars for fermentation and its resultant alcohol. This is the biggest and most important differentiator. Whiskey can be made from all sorts of things, rye, malted barley, wheat, or rye malt. There are even different varieties of Whiskey based on what country it is made in, for instance Irish Whiskey, Scotch Whiskey, and Canadian Whiskey, but this truly American drink stands fast in its selective nature; not only in national origin but also in majority ingredient.
Bourbon must be stored in new charred oak barrels at not more than 125 proof. Proper storage of the liquor is where a large part of the taste comes from. As the Bourbon ages in the barrels it will take on vanilla notes from the wood and the brown color from the charring will seep into the alcohol. Every batch of Bourbon requires a new barrel and this is just one more reason this liquor is distinctly American, it’s wasteful…at least they find good uses for the barrels when they are done with them (like for aging Stouts and Scotches).
Bourbon does not need to be made in Bourbon county Kentucky or even in Kentucky at all for that matter. While a good deal of the Bourbons on the market are made there, and at least for me Kentucky Straight is what immediately comes to mind, it is no where statement in liquor law that Bourbons come from Kentucky, and there are a few Bourbon distilleries outside of KY. It is cheeky and fun to think about but unfortunately there is no truth to the claim.
I’d like to mount some exhortic conclusion that calls you Gentlemen to action but in this case there is no need. I hope this article has been insightful and that it allows you to rest a bit easier knowing the deciding quality of that delicious Bourbon in your hand.