Celebrating American Whiskey
A bit of Whiskey 101 for the upcoming celebration of National Bourbon Day in the U.S.A
What makes a Whiskey, a Bourbon?
The credentials for calling an American Whiskey, "Bourbon" can get a little technical. The following is my attempt to explain the required criteria for you in the easiest possible terms below.
The American Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon stipulate that for a whiskey to be called Bourbon, its "mash" (the mixture of grains from which the product is distilled) must contain at least 51% corn with the remainder usually filled out with barley, rye or wheat. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) or less and placed into the barrel at no more than 125 proof with absolutely no additives. The distillate must then be aged in new charred oak barrels.
To be called "Straight bourbon" the spirit must be aged for at least two years in the barrel. If aged for less than four years, it is required that an age statement be placed on the bottle indicating its age. Therefore, if you pick up a bottle of straight bourbon that doesn't identify its age (like Jim Beam White Label), you are most likely getting spirit that's at least four years old, but probably not much older.