The term, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon” is gospel here in Kentucky.

While Whiskey may be made everywhere, bourbon was declared “America’s Native Spirit”. It must be produced in the US. On May 4 in 1964, Congress adopted a resolution that made bourbon a distinctive product of the US. Making bourbon is one of the most regulated spirits in the world. No matter the price, the bourbon you are drinking is a quality spirit.

A little history:

Why Kentucky? In the 18th century, George Washington tried to convince tax-evading settlers to move southward to Kentucky. This was incentivized by giving 60 acres of land to each Pennsylvania transplant who dedicated themselves to the production of native corn. The new settlement was called Bourbon County.

The law clearly states:

  • It must be made in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky.
  • Aging must take place in a new, charred, oak barrel. Whiskey can be aged in used barrels and often is. The bourbon must be aged for at least two years to be considered a straight bourbon.
  • The mash must be at least 51 percent corn.
  • The whiskey cannot enter the barrel at higher than 125 proof. It cannot enter the bottle at a proof less than 80.
  • Nothing can be added but water and only to lessen the proof when necessary. Other whiskeys can add color and flavor. Not bourbon, it must be au naturel.

Now that the formalities are over here are the different types of bourbon explained.

  • Standard Bourbon: The bourbon meets the minimum requirements defined by the law.
  • Kentucky Bourbon: The only difference between Standard and Kentucky bourbon is that it is made in Kentucky.
  • Straight Bourbon: The bourbon is aged for more than two years in charred oak barrels.
  • Bottled in Bond: The bourbon by law must be made by a single producer in a single season, that is aged at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse. Finally, be bottled at 50% ABV.
  • Rye Bourbon: Bourbon must be 51% corn, but the rest of the mashbill is up to the distiller. Rye typically has an aroma of baking spices and fruit.
  • Wheated Bourbon: Mashbills differ depending on the distiller, but must remain 51% corn. Wheated bourbon is normally more mellow and smooth.
  • Corn Bourbon: The bourbon must contain more than 100% corn and still is subject to laws of making bourbon. Corn bourbon is sweet and hearty.
  • Blended Bourbon: What used to be a taboo term has become the norm as of late. Blended bourbon is comprised of different types of straight bourbons.
  • Small Batch: This term is up for debate. Since there is no single definition for small-batch, it can mean just about anything. Usually, small-batch bourbons are very special.
  • Single Barrel: The bourbon must come from a single barrel since no two barrels of bourbon taste the same. This makes the bourbon more unique.
  • Sour Mash: The bourbon’s PH levels are regulated early in the fermentation process during the initial brew of the mash. The grain from a previous batch is mixed in with the new batch.

There you have it, each type of bourbon explained. You may have noticed that “Tennessee Whiskey” was omitted. Please refer back to the first sentence in this article.


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