What Is Whisk(e)y?

What Is Bourbon?


The amount of misinformation out there surprised me. As I was setting up our Pinterest page I found many infographics about Bourbon that were 95% correct. That 5% of misinformation though, kept me from pinning them. I feel that by sharing them, I would be helping circulate certain misnomers about Bourbon.

So let’s discuss what the definition of Bourbon is, what it’s not, and then I’ll explain why it matters.

According to the TTB’s website (the guys who literally wrote the law on American whiskey) Bourbon is:

Whiskey distilled from a fermented mash of grain having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). Produced in the U.S. not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.

Wow that’s a mouthful and really technical. Only a distiller will ever have to worry about most of that definition. So here’s a condensed take away.

Bourbon is:

  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • From a mash of at least 51% corn
  • Only water, grains, and yeast
  • Aged in charred new oak containers

That’s it.

While that might seem like a restrictive definition, there is in fact much room for variation. For example, the other 49% of the mash can be made from any grain. There are approximately 1,500 different yeast strains to choose from. Water can vary in mineral content and quality. And there are different kinds of oak the container can be made from, not to mention the various kinds of charring.

Now let’s take a look at what Bourbon is not.

Bourbon is not exclusive to Kentucky. Sorry Kentucky, Bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S. Kentucky is responsible though, for producing more Bourbon than any other State.

Bourbon does not have to be 2 years old. If it has the word “Straight” on the label then it has to be at least 2 years old, but that’s because of the word “Straight” and not because of the word “Bourbon.” Technically speaking you could make a Bourbon in a couple weeks. It only has to age long enough to have “characteristics generally attributed to whisky.”

Bourbon does not have to be aged in American white oak. It can be aged in any kind of oak container, as long as the container is new. Most Bourbon is aged in American white oak, but that majority doesn’t make it a requirement.

Why does this matter? Why should you care about what the definition of Bourbon is, and what it’s not?

Because wrong information can result in false expectations and disappointment. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed with their whiskey. I believe the more you know about something and the more you understand it, the more you’ll enjoy it.

This is my mission: To help you enjoy your whiskey so much you’ll want to share that experience with friends and loved ones. I want you to become a part of this social unifier. Because at the end of the day, it’s about the people you’re with and the memories you make. The whiskey just brings us together.

Want to be a part of this growing, friendly community?

First, equip yourself with knowledge so you can share your own insights with people. One way you can do that is by reading this blog every Wednesday. Sign up at the bottom of the page and get it delivered to your inbox.

Second, get out there and share whiskey with people face-to-face. While social media is convenient and fast, nothing can replace the warm feeling of sharing something you love in person. Not sure how to proceed? Book us for a tasting, invite your friends, and we’ll all have an evening we can look back on with fondness.

Are you ready to jump into this centuries old social group?

— Zac Smith