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Bourbon 101

    What is “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey”?

Bourbon whiskey is legally considered a “distinctive product of the United States,” and no other country has the authority to call their whiskey products Bourbon. Even though Bourbon can be produced anywhere, for a Bourbon to be classified as Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, it must have been distilled and aged in Kentucky for a period of at least one year and then continue to be aged for at least one additional year.

Straight whiskies must be made with a minimum of 51% of the grain that identifies that particular whiskey. For example, for a whiskey to be a Bourbon, it must be made with at least 51% corn. Other types of straight whiskies include rye, wheat whiskey, and straight corn whiskey. Blended whiskey, however, is a mixture that may contain at least 20 percent of straight whiskey or a blend of straight whiskies in combination with “harmless” coloring, flavoring, blending materials, other whiskies or neutral spirits either separately or in combination. Straight whiskey must be aged a minimum of 2 years.

Federal regulations require that Bourbon whiskey be made from a minimum of 51 percent corn. Other grains used may be rye, wheat and barley malt in any combination. By law, Bourbon must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof (vodka and neutral spirits are distilled at 190 proof) and aged in new, charred American white oak barrels at not more than 125 proof. Also, no colorings or flavorings can be added. Only distilled water may be added to the Bourbon before bottling, to achieve the proper bottling proof, which must be at least 80 proof.

Bourbon is an American whiskey, and as such is made under strict federal guidelines as described above. Some other American whiskies, such as Tennessee whiskey, must meet minimum requirements for grain, proof and aging to be called whiskey; however, distillers are free to age their whiskey in used barrels and add caramel for coloring. Regulations for imported whiskeys vary, depending on their country of origin. For instance, Canadian whisky is produced without minimums for grain mixtures, aging, or additives for flavoring or color, and producers can add up to 9.09% of other spirits or wine. Scotch and Irish whiskies, also made in compliance with their countries’ unique set of guidelines and regulations, often “tint” their whiskies to achieve a desired color.