Bourbon Whiskey has its vocabulary, from single barrel to hazmat. These are terms that you might hear from time to time when discussing with others. Although the words may take time to get used to, if you nail the lexicon, you are on your way to becoming a bourbon enthusiast.
Never fear; The Bourbon Flight is here to give you insight into the world of bourbon language.
Whiskey vs. Whisky
The difference in spelling is related to where the spirit was made. American and Irish Whiskies use the ‘e.’ Countries that omit the ‘e’ are Canada, Japan, Scotland, Australia, and most European Countries.
Fact: Maker’s Mark omits the ‘e’ on its bottles. It is paying homage to its Scottish heritage.
White Lighting/White Dog/Light Whiskey/White Whiskey
This term is essentially whiskey that has not been aged and is bottled straight from the still. It may be diluted with water, but no coloring and flavoring would come from aging the liquid in a barrel. While lacking barrel aging, there is quite a following for the unrefined juice, as popular distilleries are starting to offer a variation of the spirit.
Fact: Both Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam have released a variation of the clear liquid.
A mashbill is a distillery recipe. It is the exact ratio of grains used to make bourbon. Most distilleries use three grains to make bourbon, but there can be four. The most popular grains are corn, rye, wheat, and barley.
Fact: By Federal law, for a spirit to be called bourbon, it must be made with at least 51% corn.
People believe that once you barrel a bourbon, it is forgotten until it is time to dump and bottle. That belief needs to be corrected as distilleries choose the regime of the barrel, from the char level to the amount of time in the rack. Also, selecting the type of oak barrel is sometimes just as important as the mashbill due to how it impacts the bourbon flavor. Some distilleries even rotate the barrel in the rickhouse. Rotating the barrel can affect the flavor profile. Barrels that are higher in the rickhouse have more water evaporation because of the higher temperatures, which leads to higher proofs. The lower barrels retain more water, which creates a lower-proof bourbon. Enthusiasts believe that middle barrels produce the best bourbon.
Fact: To be considered bourbon, the oak barrel must have never been used.
Cask Strength or Hazmat
More recently, distilleries have found a niche of consumers that prefer higher-proof bourbons. Typically, bourbon is bottled between 40% and 45% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). Bourbon increases in proof as it ages. Distillers use water to dilute the bourbon to achieve the desired proof and profile. Cask Strength or Hazmat bourbon are whiskies that have not been diluted with water and are straight from the barrel.
Fact: Bourbon cannot enter the barrel at more than 125 proof.
While finishing is not new to the world of whisky making, it is fairly recent in the bourbon realm. Think of it as adding a little extra at the end of the aging process. Federal regulations only state that to be considered bourbon, it must be aged in new oak barrels. But after aging, the liquid can be dumped into another barrel to add flavors or accentuate tastes within the existing barrel.
Fact: Most ex-bourbon barrels are sold to whisky makers in Scotland, Ireland, and Canada.
I hope this has improved your knowledge of bourbon terms.
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