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What is Bourbon?

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Bourbon Barrels

It seems like an easy enough question but there are material differences between Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye and Whiskey; there are requirements that must be fulfilled before a distiller can label a product as Bourbon.  In 1964 Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson administration declared bourbon the America’s Native Spirit.

In order to declare a product as Bourbon:

  1. It must be produced in the U.S.
  2. The grain mixture must be more than half corn so at least 51%.
  3. Aged in new barrels that are made of oak and charred on the inside.
  4. Distilled to no more than 160 proof.
  5. Barreled at no more that 125 proof.
  6. Bottled at least 80 proof.

Change the process or the ingredients and you may have a delicious product but you may not call it bourbon.  Use 51% or more rye in the mash bill and you have create Rye Whiskey, like this Thomas H. Handy rye.  Filter the mash bill through maple wood charcoal before barreling and you have Tennessee Whiskey, like Jack Daniels.

Hopefully this guide helps inform your next purchase or at least gives you interesting trivia at your next cocktail party.

More interested in a beer?  How about the John John Ale by Rogue, aged in Whiskey Barrels.