Bourbon is America’s spirit. While many in this country happily romanticize about Irish and Scotch Whisky (rightfully so) they are often ignorant of the equally romantic, and historically compelling resume of Bourbon. Bourbon, by law must be made in the USA although most are made in the State of Kentucky (Bourbon is named for Bourbon County in Kentucky). It is required to be made with a majority of corn (at least 51%) with rye, wheat, and malted barley used in varying proportions. The significance of the majority use of corn dates back to the original Kentucky settlement which was originally part of the state of Virginia. In order to make the new settlements to the west economically viable, the new “Kentuckians” were encouraged to plant corn as a cash crop. In turn their spirits – the first Bourbons – were mandated to rely on the staple crop. Bourbon will always be bold in color and robustly wood influenced, as it is required to be aged in new, and charred (barrels are charred over an open flame) oak barrels. Bourbon is America’s Spirit.
There has never been so much interest in Rye as you will find today. This wasn’t always the case as the resurgence of Rye’s popularity in recent years caught distillers off-guard and in short supply of the spicy nectar. Rye Whiskey can be thought of as Bourbon on steroids. Assertive while lush filled with a mélange of deep spice flavors accented by an omnipresent impression of spicy Rye.
You would certainly be forgiven for not immediately understanding the differences between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon. Essentially, they are the same through their respective evolution differing only at the final stage. Tennessee Whiskey producers, for reasons known only to them, choose to filter their Whiskey through a thick bed (ten feet in some cases) of sugar maple charcoal. This unusual process strips the Whiskey of many congeners resulting in a smoother, and cleaner Whiskey.
The New American Whiskey category is a bold and untamed world led by the craft distiller who seeks to make products that don’t conform to the rules set-forth for Bourbon. Many of these Whiskies are in what would have to honestly be called an experimental stage as they are bottled one barrel at a time by distillers still searching for their desired style. With that said, many of these new Whiskies are damn good and I expect they will continue to get better.
BevX Stories on Bourbon & American Whiskey
Michter’s Now A Heritage Member in Kentucky Distillers’ Association – See the story
Whiskey’s Essential Element – Wood – See the story
Brown-Forman Cooperage Turns 70 – See the story