What is Bourbon? Learn Why This Spirit is Popular

Bourbon falls under the broader category of whiskey, as does Scotch among other spirits. Bourbon is probably named indirectly for the Bourbon dynasty of European kings but more directly for an American geographic location. Both Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Bourbon County in Kentucky claim that distinction. Read below to learn more about this amazing spirit.

Table of Contents

Bourbon Spirit - What is Bourbon
10Expert Score
Bourbon​ Flavor Scale

Bourbon has a rich and complex flavor profile. This makes it incredible for pairing with a variety of foods and cannabis strains.

Woody, Grain and Oaky
10
Hot, Spicy and Peppery
10
Sweet, Vanilla and Caramel
10
Floral & Fruity
10
Positive
  • Strong
  • Amazing Neat
  • Diverse
Negatives
  • Strong
  • Can Be Expensive

Bourbon​ Information

Bourbon must be produced in the United States, must contain at least 51% corn in its mash, and be aged in new, charred, American oak barrels. The distinction between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey is a source of confusion for many. Tennessee whiskey, unlike bourbon, is not regulated and is, therefore, a loose term for any whiskey from the state of Tennessee, although most producers do meet the requirements to legally be considered bourbon.

Frequently Asked Questions

The process begins with a variety of grains, including a majority of corn. These grains are usually germinated, roasted, and soaked in hot water to release their sugar content. The yeast is then introduced to begin the fermentation process, which converts the sugar into alcohol. Once fermentation is complete, the liquid — which resembles beer — is heated in a still. The alcohol and more volatile aromatics that boil at a lower temperature than water become a vapor, which is then cooled and collected in a separate container as a liquid.

This new whiskey, called “white dog,” is clear and colorless as well as quite harsh tasting. Aging in charred oak barrels imparts the famous color to bourbon as well as much of its flavor. Unlike many other spirits that require aging for long periods, bourbon is often aged for as little as three months before release. Bourbon labeled as “straight,” however, must be aged for at least two years and list the aging time on the label up to four years.

Bourbon is a very versatile drink that works well neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails. One of the first cocktails using bourbon was called the Old Stonewall. The name predates the Civil War, so it wasn’t named after General “Stonewall” Jackson. Most people think the name refers to the feeling of hitting a stone wall after drinking too many. In any case, it’s a shot of bourbon in a tall glass with crushed ice and topped off with hard cider.

Bourbon is also, of course, the star of the famous Kentucky mint julep, served with crushed ice in a pewter mug with sugar and fresh mint.

If you do decide to drink your bourbon neat, make sure it isn’t too warm. Whiskeys are arguably most enjoyable under 70 degrees, so keep your bottle in a cool place or beverage cooler.

  • Old Fashioned
  • Mint Julep
  • Manhattan
  • John Collins
  • Whiskey Smash
  • Bourbon Sidecar

Bourbon Pairings

Music
Country
Country 100%
Rock
Rock 90%
Blues
Blues 90%
Food
Barbecue
Ribs, Pulled Pork, Brisket 100%
Japanese
Takoyaki (Octopus) Yakitori (Meat on a stick) 90%
American
Burgers, Fries, Wings, Coleslaw 100%
Cannabis Strains
AK 47
AK 47 93%
Girl Scout Cookies
Girl Scout Cookies​ 100%
Purple Haze
Purple Haze 90%

Where Is Bourbon Made?

Short History of Bourbon

18th Century

Bourbon was first made in the American South sometime in the 18th century. Most experts think it originated in Kentucky, where it’s still very closely associated. Distilling was brought to America by immigrants who already had strong traditions of making spirits, but most whiskey in Europe was made with barley, which is still the case in Scotland. (By the way, in Scotland, they leave out the “e” and spell it “whisky.”) American whiskey was marked by the wider availability of the native, new-world grain: corn. Whiskey made from corn has a distinctive, almost sweet roundness to it that sets it apart from drier, spicier whiskeys.

19th Century

In the 19th century, bourbon production really picked up, especially in Kentucky. So much bourbon is still made in Kentucky that most people don’t realize it can be made anywhere in the U.S. For much of American history, it was common for people to drink bourbon all day, every day. They’d start with bourbon and breakfast and end with a nightcap. Even though most Americans are more moderate than that these days, it’s still a big business and the largest alcohol export to overseas markets.

The bourbon industry suffered a setback during the Prohibition years when all legal distilleries were closed down. Americans began buying spirits from illegal sources, including moonshiners and smugglers bringing Canadian whiskey across the border.

Today

Bourbon has exploded in popularity and there are hundreds of brands. Bourbon drinkers come from all walks of life, which has added to the popularity of the spirit.

Summary

Bourbon is American whiskey made from at least 51% corn and aged in a charred American oak barrel. It’s one of the most popular spirits in the world and a major export for the U.S. It’s oak aging and corn base give it a smooth, round texture and irresistible flavor. Bourbon is a great pairing with both tobacco and cannabis and can tie you into a great, historical, American beverage tradition.

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