WHAT IS BOURBON MADE OF?
Need a little proof that less really is more? Crack open a bottle of bourbon. All of the complex, beguiling, delicious flavors inside come from nothing more than grain, water, yeast, oak, and time.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey–specifically an American whiskey made from a mash of at least 50% corn. The remainder can be any mixture of grains the distiller desires, but in practice it usually contains some malted barley, as well as either wheat or rye.
Next, that mash must be distilled. The process of distillation raises the alcohol by volume, transforming a beer-strength mash into the fiery raw spirit. The more efficient a still is, the more quickly it can distill mash to a very high proof spirit.
However, very high proof can have an inverse relationship to flavor. The neutral flavor of vodka, for instance, can only be made by distilling a mash to a very high proof–about 190 proof, or 95% ABV. Bourbon, on the other hand, must be distilled at 160 proof or lower, which ensures that it still has some of that underlying flavor of corn and other grains when it exits the still.
Freshly distilled bourbon is crystal clear. It won’t develop that amber color or vanilla and caramel aroma until it goes into a cask. Bourbon must be aged in a very specific type of cask: a new, charred oak barrel. Usually, these are made of white oak.
Before going into barrels, the new spirit must be diluted, or “proofed.” Rules stipulate that it must be filled into barrels at 125 proof or lower. Somewhat counterintuitively, many distillers feel that the whiskey actually ages fastest at a lower proof, so they proof it down even further before maturation.
There are no rules about how long bourbon in general needs to age, although Straight bourbon must age at least two years, and Bottled in Bond bourbon needs to age at least four. In practice, many producers (including Barrell Craft Spirits) age their bourbon for much longer than that. Anywhere from six to 13 years is fairly standard.
When it’s time to bottle, many bourbons are proofed down to reduce their strength, although they must be bottled at at least 80 proof. Instead of diluting our whiskey with water, we bottle all of our spirits, including bourbon, rye whiskey, and tennessee whiskeys, at cask strength and without chill filtration to preserve as much flavor as possible.
Kentucky bourbon is the most famous variety, but bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the United States, from Maine to California. However, whiskey made outside the U.S. can’t be called bourbon, even if it follows all the other rules.
Because we source bourbon from a wide range of producers, Barrell Craft Spirits’ selection of bourbons is eclectic and diverse. That makes them a particularly rewarding way to experience the full range of flavors bourbon can display. Ready to taste that unique alchemy of grain, yeast, water, oak, and time for yourself? You can shop all of our current Small Batch, Private Release, Barrell Craft Spirits, and Single Barrel bourbons on our website, or use our map tool to find a retailer near you.