We Kentuckians take our bourbon seriously. Of course, Kentucky bourbon is the original and the best of all bourbon whiskeys. But, while it's made right here in the Bluegrass State, we aren't all experts. Some of us don't drink bourbon, or don't live in a part of the Commonwealth where the spirit is produced. Even if you don't partake in Kentucky's native spirit, or if you've never taken an interest in bourbon culture, there are times when the conversation turns to Kentucky bourbon. In the spirit of Bourbon Heritage Month, we're giving you a little cheat sheet that will have you talking about Kentucky Bourbon like a pro.
Bourbon: Bourbon whiskey is a uniquely American spirit which falls under strict production standards. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5) require that bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be produced in the United States, made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume), entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume), and bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).
Kentucky Bourbon: Although we all know that the best bourbon is bottled here in the Bluegrass State where it was invented, bourbon does not have to be produced in Kentucky. Unlike French wines such as champagne or burgundy, bourbon does not carry a requirement for provenance. Kentucky distillers believe that the high limestone content in Bluegrass region water leads to a superior product. Here at HerKentucky, we tend to agree.
Barrel: Federal law requires that bourbon be aged in a new charred oak barrel. This means that the barrel is actually lit on fire in preparation. (Watch it here!) This process removes sulphur from the wood and allows the natural wood sugars, vanillin, and color of the wood to be absorbed into the whiskey, resulting in a delicious finished product.
Mash Bill: The mash bill is, basically, the recipe for a particular bourbon. Federal regulations require that the mash bill be at least 51% percent corn; many are 60-70% corn. Most mash bills contain varying percentages of corn, barley, and rye. The secondary grain mixture is an important factor in determining the bourbon's flavor.
Wheated: A bourbon which uses wheat as a secondary grain in its mash profile is often referred to as "wheated." These whiskeys are known for a soft, sweet flavor with notes of caramel or vanilla. Popular wheated bourbons include Pappy Van Winkle, Maker's Mark, and Old Fitzgerald.
Angels' Share: The "angels' share" is a distilling term referring to the amount of alcohol lost to evaporation during the aging process. This often leads to the
Proof: Proof refers to the strength of, or, put simply, amount of alcohol in, bourbon. In the United States, proof means twice the alcohol percentage. So, for example, 90 proof bourbon is 45% alcohol.
Now you can talk about bourbon with the pros! Cheers, y'all!