The ABC's of American bourbon

Do you know your bourbons?

Do you know your bourbons?  (Gayot.com)

Whiskey. Bourbon. Rye. What’s the difference? And why does it taste so delicious? 

Any type of fermented grain, in fact, can be used to make whiskey, and the practice of aging whiskey (and charring the barrels) for better flavor has been practiced for centuries. Whiskey is made in Ireland and Canada too, but if American whiskey is made primarily with corn – at least 51 percent corn – then it can be legally classified as Bourbon.

Rye (or rye whiskey) by law is made from at least 51 percent of rye grain. Though Bourbon tends to be sweeter and more full-bodied, both are types of distilled spirits made from fermented mash.   

Many types of Bourbon age in oak barrels for several years, but since sales of American-made Bourbon have more than doubled over the last decade, producers are rushing to produce younger Bourbon – and making this type of whiskey quicker than ever before.

Central Kentucky water in Bourbon County is largely iron-free and rich in calcium -- that is, the perfect starter ingredient for making bourbon. Some producers add yeast, sour mash and barley malts, plus other secret ingredients to help attain the custom taste profiles, which are deeply associated with the South.

Distilling bourbon is much simpler than you think, in fact, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives established a number of laws for the production of Bourbon. Here are the ABC’s of Bourbon:

American – It must be made in the United States. Over 90 percent is produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Barrels – The mix must be aged in new, charred American oak containers. Nearly everyone uses oak barrels.

 – Bonafide Bourbon must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn.

 – It must be distilled at no more than 160 proof, or 80 percent alcohol.

 – Bourbon must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof.

 – It must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.

 – With the title of “Genuine Bourbon,” this mix must have nothing added but water. Cheers.

Learn about the four-step process of making Bourbon

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