Bonjour class! Welcome to Bourbon 101. We’re different from other schools that don’t allow you to have alcohol during classes. We’re cool. Get your notes and a glass whiskey ready, because now it is time to explore America’s history.
There isn’t anything more American than Bourbon. Except for a bald Eagle adorned in an American flag, with an apple pie and a baseball in its hands. The history of Bourbon is a reflection of the country’s highs and lows, with great times and bad. It survived despite great hardship thanks to its ingenuity and continued to thrive despite all odds.
How do you define Bourbon?
It’s time to be a bit geeky and discuss a few historical facts and numbers. If you don’t already know it, the government regulates almost every aspect of bourbon. That’s good news. There are several requirements to legally be called Bourbon.
- It must be produced in America. It must be made in the USA. In 1964 Congress passed Resolution 57. This designation designated bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States. The Kentucky distillery produces 95% of all the bourbon, but you can still make it in other states in the United States if you adhere to all the regulations.
- A mash bill, which is a mixture of fermentable grain, must have at least 51% corn. The rest of the mash bill may contain rye or barley and/or wheat.
- The barrels must contain newcharred American oak barrels. This distinction is important because most whiskeys outside of the U.S. have been aged in oak barrels that had previously held other whiskey, port or wine.
- Only 160 proof can be achieved for Bourbon.
- After distillation, bourbon cannot be poured into a barrel with more than 125 proof. It can also not enter the bottles at less than 80 percent.
Although this part is a bit tricky, it will allow you to make an informed purchase when buying bourbon. Although there’s no time limit for a “bourbon”, there are some important differences.
- It must be at least two years old to qualify as a straight bourbon.
- An age statement must be included on any bourbon less than 4 years old.
- A label stating the age of Bourbon must include the youngest whiskey contained in it.
The straight Bourbon subcategory “Bottled In Bond” has its own requirements. In a time of conglomerate-produced juice by god only knows who, a whiskey labeled “Bottled in bond” can, at a minimum, tell you that what’s in your bottle was produced by a single human being during one particular point in time, and aged and bottled in a way that is considered a mark of quality.
- It must be one distillation season, one distiller and one distillery.
- You must be at least 4 years old and kept in an American federally bonded facility.
- Bottled at 100 proof
The History of Bourbon
The earliest settlers in Kentucky (Scots and Scots) brought distilling to the area sometime around the 1850s. Although it’s not known how bourbon became a distinct form of whiskey, there are many legends and stories about its origins.
Many versions exist about the origin of “bourbon”. Others believe it was named after Bourbon County. This in turn, gets its name from France’s royal family. Another explanation for the name of the county is that it was named after Bourbon County, which was further split. “Old Bourbon,” as the locals called the region, was an important port that transported goods along the Ohio River. To refer to the origin port, whiskey barrels were painted “Old Bourbon”. Corn whiskey is probably the most popular whiskey. “Bourbon” was the new name for any corn-based whiskey.
Up until 1919, everything was perfect for whiskey drinkers. Shoeless Joe Jackson was not only ruined by the Black Sox Scandal but also this year brought Prohibition, one of America’s most outrageous bonehead ideas. In 1919, the Constitution’s 18th Amendment was ratified. It banned all alcohol beverages from being produced, imported, transported, or sold. Despite the terrible Volstead Act, NASCAR racing was allowed to continue. Prohibition was repealed officially on December 5, 1933. Hallelujah!
Bourbon is big business. Nearly two-thirds all domestic distilled beverages are sold through Bourbon. The U.S. Senate designated September National Bourbon Heritage Month. We all know that Bourbon tastes great, whether you are sipping Evan Williams White Label Bourbon or Pappy Van Winkle Twenty-year. You can age it for up to 20 years, or just for a few months. While some bourbons are best enjoyed in cocktails like Old-Fashioned or a boulevardier, others can be enjoyed straight or with just a little water. We don’t care how you enjoy your Bourbon.
Bourbon 101 is a class that takes place in a bar. The history of bourbon is reflected in the highs and lows of America’s history, having survived despite great hardship due to its ingenuity, and thriving despite all odds. Bourbon must be made in America, liquor has to be at least two years old