An Overview on Bourbon

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

Bourbon has a bite that you either love or hate. Honestly, I think everyone hates it at first– minus the masochists and underaged (who may very well return watered down whiskey to their parents liquor cabinets after exploration). But over time some grow to love the slight burn bourbon delivers. And some never move past their first sip. I am in the camp of folks who’ve grown into it. I’ve learned to appreciate its aesthetics; the oak and vanilla notes, the amber hue, and pairing it with a cigar. Bourbon gives me permission to switch my phone to silent and be completely “unavailable” to the outside world for evenings at a time.

If you are in search of expertise analysis on the finer details of bourbon, then I regret to inform you that only wholehearted disappointment awaits. Others are better fit to share with you the origins, distilling process, and laws regarding bourbon. I offer a birds eye view, focusing on consumption, and providing enough information to fool friends and Father-in-laws. With that disclaimer, here are a few nuggets you can toss out casually the next time you find a single barrel in your hand.

First, bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. Scotch is not bourbon. Neither are  our blended friends from the far north: Canadian Club and Crown. Second, to be labeled bourbon it must be at least 51% corn, distilled in water, and aged in new oak barrels. Third, absolutely no additives or enhancers of any kind are allowed. Fourth, if the bottle is labeled small batch, that bottle of bourbon was made using a few select barrels. If the bottle is labeled single barrel, the bourbon in the bottle came from one and only one barrel. The appeal for single and small batch is that each barrel has a small variation in flavor. Therefore, less barrels used equals a more unique flavor. And finally, while it is the pride of Kentucky (along with baseball bats and horse races), bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States.  

Now armed with enough information to get you into trouble, you’re ready to give a glass of bourbon your best introspective whirl. I suggest a few options:


Go big. Travel the Bourbon Trail that runs through Kentucky. Drive throughout the state and sample the familiars like Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Makers Mark.


Go home. Head to a large liquor store, buy a few airplane size bottles of rye and wheat heavy bourbons to create an impromptu bourbon flight.


Go somewhere else. Invite yourself over to a friends house who you know to be an avid bourbon bandito. They will be more than happy to share their stash with you (maybe a small batch or single barrel if you're lucky), and espouse any and all knowledge they have accrued for fooling friends and Father-in-laws.

To summarize, bourbon is a staple of our country. This isn’t colorful hyperbole. It’s been around since the Revolutionary War, survived prohibition, and in 1964, The United States Congress – known to be a divisive group – named bourbon the “Native Spirit of the United States”. It was a crowning jewel added to the torch of American pastimes, right next to baseball and apple pie. Bourbon is for serious conversations, celebrations, and everything in between. So the next time you want America in a glass, ask for bourbon, neat or on the rocks, and enjoy your corn.

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