• Barrell Craft Spirits

IS IT TRUE THAT ONLY KENTUCKY PRODUCES REAL BOURBON?


IS IT TRUE THAT ONLY KENTUCKY PRODUCES REAL BOURBON?

If you’ve ever ambled the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or perused the labels in your local liquor store, it can be easy to assume that bourbon must be made in the Bluegrass state. But is that really true?


The short answer is no. Bourbon–America’s “native spirit”–can be made anywhere in the US. As long as it’s produced in the United States, distilled from a fermented mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in charred new oak barrels, and follows all of the other rules governing bourbon production, it can be called bourbon. And, in fact, great bourbon is being made all across the country, from California to Maine and everywhere in between.


Even still, Kentucky dominates the American bourbon industry, claiming to produce something like 95 percent of the world’s bourbon. Virtually all the big producers, from Wild Turkey and Heaven Hill, to Buffalo Trace and Four Roses, are headquartered in Kentucky. The Kentucky Distillers Association now boasts that the state has more than 10 million barrels aging in its warehouses.


So how did Kentucky end up as the undisputed king of the bourbon world? Kentucky distillers would like you to think because it’s simply the best place for making bourbon–the right water, the right climate to age bourbon, and the right proximity to the right grains. That’s all true, for the most part. But there’s also a historical aspect to the state’s dominance.


In his book Bourbon, Straight, Chuck Cowdery reports that when the American whiskey distilling industry crashed in the 1970s, most producers outside of Kentucky ended up closing. American distilling didn’t start to rebound until the 2000s, at which point the old distilleries in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic had long been converted into something else, leaving Kentucky producers to swoop in and seize the market.


But even back in the dark days of the 1970s, Kentucky wasn’t the only game in town. MGP distillery in Indiana (then called Seagrams) was cranking out great bourbon just across the Ohio River. Tennessee producers, too, continued making outstanding whiskey, even if much of it was sold as Tennessee whiskey rather than bourbon.


Today, American whiskey makers are thriving–in Kentucky, and beyond. While we adore Kentucky bourbon, it’s far from the only type of whiskey we source. Our warehouses are filled with bourbon from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and elsewhere, plus Tennessee whiskey, rye whiskeys, American single malts, and even oddball casks like Polish rye and Caribbean rum.


Not only do we source great bourbons from all over the country in our search for rich flavor; we go so far as to blend them together, too. Some of our favorite Barrell Craft Spirits Small Batch Bourbon releases contain bourbons from the big three: Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.


Batch 029, for instance, is a blend of 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, and 16-year-old straight bourbon whiskeys distilled and aged in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. A uniquely herbal, tropical character earned it a gold medal at the 2021 L.A. Spirits Awards, and a score of 91 at the 2021 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.


Barrell Bourbon Batch 027 is another triple-threat bourbon, containing straight bourbons from the same three states at 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, and 15 years of age. Bright, juicy, and nutty, this is a serious cherry bomb of a whiskey (try it in a Manhattan for a serious stonefruit experience). It earned a double gold award at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a double platinum at the 2021 ASCOT Awards, among a slew of other accolades.


Want to experience the distinctively nuanced, layered character that comes from blending bourbons from different states and producers? You can shop many of our products online, or use our search tool to find a retailer near you.