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What Is Bourbon?

Growing up, we always imagined that you were officially an adult when you could ask for a “Bourbon on the rocks” in a dimly lit bar while looking mysterious as F. Suffice to say, we had no idea what Bourbon was, or what “on the rocks” meant (it means with ice, just FYI). So now it’s finally time to learn what is bourbon?

What Is Bourbon?

If you’re still wondering what Bourbon actually is, we’re here yet again with our infinite (don’t test us please!) alcohol knowledge to give you the straight up facts.

Really simply, Bourbon is a type American whiskey which is made primarily from corn; 51% percent corn to be precise! Any whiskey produced outside of America cannot be classed as a Bourbon whiskey, so Bourbon is a really great little nod to our unique history of distilling.

What Kinds Of Bourbon Are There?

Luckily, to avoid having to remember countless types of Bourbon, there’s only three types.

The first type of Bourbon is the Traditional Bourbon that we all know and love when we think of brands such as Jim Beam, Old Crow, etc and typically have a mash made up of around 75% Corn, with the rest of the mash comprising of equal parts of barley and rye). The Traditional Bourbons have the familiar sweet and spicy little kick to them, and are the most popular of the Bourbon varieties.

Next up, we have Wheat Bourbon, which is distilled and prepared in a very similar way to the Traditional Bourbon. As we’re sure you’ve guessed, Wheat Bourbon is made up primarily of wheat within the mash, which contributes to the Bourbon having a slightly sweeter taste and a milder effect in regards to the famous “Bourbon Burn” when taking a sip. If you’re looking for a Wheat Bourbon, the most popular ones you’ll have seen around are from brands such as Old Fitzgerald and Maker’s Mark.

Finally, there’s Rye Bourbon; Rye Bourbon has a mash which is made up predominantly of… you guessed it, Rye! With double the amount of Rye, less corn and almost no barley, the Rye Bourbon’s main characteristic is that it has more of a kick or a bite than other bourbons. The most well known of the Rye Bourbons are from brands such as Woodford Reserve or George T.Stagg.


How Is Bourbon Made?

So as we’ve referenced above, distillers use something called a Mash Bill; a Mash Bill is the combined amount of ingredients such as corn, wheat or rye in their varying percentages to produce the specific type of Bourbon required.

Once the Distiller has decided on the Mash Bill, the chosen grains are then coarsely ground, mixed with water and heated, with corn being cooked first, followed by rye and wheat once the cooking temperature has dropped. This heating process allows the naturally present enzymes within the grains to break down the starch within the grain and begin to produce fermentable sugars. 

As soon as the grains are cooked, Distillers will then pour the entirety of the mixture into a fermentation vat, where they’ll add yeast and something called Sour Mash (basically just an ingredient to add a little sour kick to the mixture). Once the fermentation magic happens and the wonders have science have got involved, the mixture is then usually distilled twice for a purer product and is then added to a new charred oak barrel for two years, before it can be classed as a straight Bourbon.

Just another little bit of info for your Knowledge Bank; contrary to what most people believe, Jack Daniels isn’t a Bourbon, as this is made using an entirely different process, using sugar maple charcoal.

How Strong Is Bourbon Whiskey?

Upon being stored in the oak barrels, Bourbon must be no higher than 125 U.S Proof (62.5%), where it will then age and reduce in proof. Once bottled, Bourbon must have a minimum of 80 U.S Proof (40% ABV) but this can reach a massive 100 Proof!

If all of this talk about Mash and Distillation seems a little too much to take in, we’ve made it super simple to experience how adding a Bourbon to a cocktail can radically change it’s taste. So if you’re just stepping into the world of Bourbons, but still adore a cocktail, we’ve got the perfect Bourbon Sour for you to try!