WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A GOOD BOURBON?
What makes a truly great bourbon? You know, one that transcends the domain of bourbon cocktails and is worthy of sipping all on its own? (Not that you shouldn’t try making a cocktail with a killer bourbon–a top-shelf mint julep is truly a thing of beauty.)
Greatness doesn’t boil down to just one thing. Read on to learn what Barrell Craft Spirits thinks are the key elements of a great bourbon.
WHAT IS BOURBON?
A truly American spirit, bourbon is a style of whiskey that can only be produced in the United States. It must be made from a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn, distilled to no higher than 160 proof, and filled into new charred oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof.
Straight bourbon, a subcategory, must be aged at least two years in bourbon barrels. If it’s aged for fewer than four years, it needs to show an age statement reflecting the youngest whiskey in the bottle. It also can’t contain colorings, flavorings, or additions of any kind.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT ONE?
Age isn’t the most important thing about a bourbon. But it is important. A bourbon that’s too young can taste grainy and raw, while a bourbon that’s too old can become harshly oaky or astringent, especially if it matured in a really hot place.
Like so much in life, bourbon aging is about balance. The six- to 12-year window is a good sweet spot, although it’s certainly possible to age a bourbon two decades or more with great results, under the right conditions.
The bourbon flavor profile is easy to love. Some key notes are caramel, vanilla, cherry, baking spices, and oak. Beyond those general flavors, there’s plenty of diversity in the world of bourbon whiskey. Wheated bourbons like Maker’s Mark tend to have an appealing soft sweetness, while bourbons made with rye, like Jim Beam, are often spicy and a little bit grassy. Older bourbons often have woody, leathery, or savory characteristics, while younger bourbons can be fruitier and sweeter.
Finally, a great bourbon is more than the sum of its parts: it possesses character, distinction, or surprise. One of our goals at Barrell Craft Spirits is to create bottlings with true personality that take those classic bourbon flavors in an unexpected new direction.
Ready to experience it for yourself? Here are some of our recent favorites.
A blend of straight bourbon whiskeys distilled and aged in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana, Barrell Bourbon Batch 031 combines the best elements of youthful and mature casks. Components range in age from six to 16 years, giving this whiskey a lively, dynamic character. Flavors like shortbread, pumpkin pie, peppermint, and fresh evergreen give it a cozy, autumnal vibe.
Created from a selection of 15-year-old barrels from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Barrell Bourbon Gray Label is a flavor explosion with incredible density and sophistication. Sweet, savory, mineral, fruity, and spicy flavors evolve in the glass, finally fading to an earthy, dry finish with pipe tobacco, walnuts, and espresso bean.
Inspired by our founders’ memories of time spent on a family farm in the Northeast, Armida is a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys finished separately in pear brandy, Jamaican rum, and Sicilian amaro casks, then blended together to create a particularly complex whiskey. Aromas of ripe pear, carrot cake, and dusty spices give way to a sweet, rum-inflected palate with flavors like dates, licorice, and cardamom spice.