What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is kinda like whiskey's "sweet spot." Why? Well, first, because corn is a sweet grain. The more corn, the sweeter the whiskey. Also, it's tougher to make bourbon than whiskey. In fact, the government actually has standards for "Straight Bourbon Whiskey."
By law, bourbon must be:
- Produced in the USA
- Made of a grain mix of at least 51% corn
- Distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV)
- No additives allowed (except water to reduce proof where necessary)
- Aged in new, charred white oak barrels
- Aged for a minimum of two years*
* To be called "Straight" bourbon
Simply put, the main bourbon ingredients are distilled grain and water. We mix more than 51% corn (as required by the government) with barley, malt and rye. Then we add a little yeast. Not just any yeast, either. We've used the same, private-stock strain of yeast since Prohibition was repealed. Then we add pure, iron-free water, some time and a whole lotta love. And there you have it: The World's Finest Bourbon.
America's Native Spirit
The Beam family's contribution to America: The World's Finest Bourbon. Bourbon is America's contribution to the world of whiskey. To make it official, the U.S. Congress recognized Bourbon as America's Native Spirit in 1964, about 200 years after the very first bourbon went into a barrel.
1. All bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Tennessee whiskey? Not bourbon. Canadian whiskey? Nope. Scotch? Definitely not bourbon... you get the idea.
2. Bourbon is all-American. In 1964, under President Lyndon Johnson's administration, Congress declared bourbon America's Native Spirit (LBJ sure enjoyed his bourbon.).
3. The only thing that can be added to bourbon is water (and only to bring it down to proof). Other whiskey makers can add colors and flavors to their products.
4. Whiskey can age in re-used barrels. By law bourbon must use NEW charred American white oak barrels. Scotch whiskey often recycles barrels first used for bourbon. Probably to try to steal some of the bourbon's flavor!
5. It can't say "bourbon" on the label if it's not distilled in the United States. And it can't be "Kentucky Bourbon" unless it's distilled in Kentucky.
If you’re still not sure what bourbon is – taste the difference. Take a sip of each and find out. The difference between bourbon vs. whiskey is clear when you try them. And don’t forget – you can always tour the American Stillhouse in Kentucky to see how we make our bourbon.