Don’t let the fancy snifters and wall full of brand-name bottles intimidate you! This article will teach you the basics of what you need to know to order, purchase, and enjoy bourbon responsibly. Whether you are new to the world of libations, an old Scotch drinker, or a new convert, there is a bourbon to fit every taste and pace.
What is Bourbon?
Put simply, Bourbon is a type of American whiskey made primarily with corn. Now if you want to get fancy with it, there are five things that make Bourbon what it is according to The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. All bourbon must be:
- Made with at least 51% corn grain. More can be used, but anything less is whiskey, not bourbon.
- Aged for no less than two years.
- Aged in a brand new oak cooperage (barrel or bucket).
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.
- Manufactured in the United States of America.
Even though bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, products produced overseas are not allowed to claim the title of “bourbon whiskey”. Bourbon whisky gets its name from its historical association with the area called Old Bourbon in Bourbon County, Kentucky. It has been reported that more than 97% of bourbon whisky is made in or near the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, Bardstown, Kentucky.
Bourbon is an improvement over the whiskeys of the past because the aging, bottling, yeast, water source, and grain composition have evolved over the decades and centuries to produce a superior whiskey in taste, color, and smoothness.
You may notice that we use the tem bourbon and whisky interchangeably. That’s because all bourbons are whiskeys, but all whiskeys are not bourbons – remember, they must meet the above standards to hold the title bourbon.
Thanks to television shows like Mad Men, and a recent expansion of product lines from legendary distillers, bourbon drinks and cocktails are gaining popularity. Down here in Kentucky, the Bourbon Trail distillery and bar tours have created a whole new generation of whiskey connoisseurs and enthusiasts who are eager to convert from other mainstream liquors.
Speakeasy bars that whip up classic bourbon cocktails using a variety of bitters are also booming.
How to Enjoy Bourbon
Bourbon is served straight, over ice, diluted with water or soda , and can even be used in cooking. Its OK to mix bourbon as you would other cocktails, but we recommend sticking with the classics like the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, and the famous Mint Julep.
Bitters, cherries, and even brown sugar can be used to spice up your cocktail, but do not, I repeat, do not destroy perfectly good whiskey with inferior substances. Doing so will ruin the bourbon, the experience, and is a great way to make your bartender hate you.
If you are interested in expanding your bourbon palate, the best way to experience a bourbon you may not have tasted before is to ask your bartender for a “flight”. Usually, flights are three half-pour snifters organized by distiller (grab a Jim Beam Small Batch Collection flight at Dish on Market), but many bars will allow you to choose your poisons. One of my favorite combinations to serve up in flight is the “Three B’s” – Bookers, Bulleit, and Blantons.
- Bookers is a small batch bourbon developed by Jim Beam, has the highest alcohol content in the Small Batch Collection and is considered a cask strength bourbon – ranging from 125 to 131 proof. Originally, Bookers was reserved for friends of Jim Beams grandson, Booker Noe and wasn’t available to the public.
- Bulleit is a Kentucky straight bourbon whisky and differs from the other two in its high rye content. Throwing Bulleit in the mix gives you some gentle exposure to rye bourbon.
- Blantons is the world’s first single-barrel bourbon. Its 93 proof with a short finish, rich and sweet nose, and has a nice honey-vanilla palate.
In the mean time, grab a glass, sit back, sip, and enjoy life!