With its history dating back to the mid-19th century in the Southern US, bourbon (a form of whiskey) has earned a stigma of being America’s liquor. So much in fact that it has received the Congressional Seal of Approval as being “America’s Native Spirit”. You don’t get much more American than that!
Bourbon drinkers have a refined taste, and an astute drinker will settle for nothing less than the best. Depending on who is doing the drinking, that can mean different things.
There are three different types of bourbon and all have their own distinct flavor. In the following article I’ll give a quick overview of what each kind is like. If you’re new to drinking bourbon, I suggest giving them all a try and seeing what type suits you best. Also, check out our articles about all our favorite adult beverages while you’re here!
The 3 Types of Bourbon
While it is distilled all across the country, it has become synonymous as being made in Kentucky. There are neighbors in the South in Tennessee and New Orleans who would beg to differ, but if you ask me, Kentucky is king when it comes to bourbon.
As mentioned above, bourbon is a type of whiskey. In order for it to be classified as a bourbon, it has to have the following three things:
- 80% maximum alcohol by volume
- Distilled in charred oak barrels – this is what gives it a distinct golden hue
- At least 51% corn mash (the mixture from which the bourbon is made)
There are no tight rules on how long it should be aged, but most consider that batches that are matured for four years or more are the best. There is also a requirement that bourbons that are under two years old must have its age displayed on the bottle’s label.
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So those are the basics on bourbon in general, let’s get into the three main types.
For it to be considered a traditional bourbon, the grain component (mash) must be over 70% corn. The remaining portion is made up of a mixture of rye and barley, usually in equal parts.
As for flavor, this has a sweet and spicy taste.
Common brands: Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Old Crow, Evan William
This is much like a traditional bourbon, though with the slight difference in that it is wheat used in the mash mixture, instead of rye. This has the effect of making it even sweeter and a softer burn.
Common brands: Maker’s Mark, Old Fitzgerald, Four Roses
If you paid attention to the first two, you can probably figure out what classifies a bourbon as a rye bourbon. You guessed it, it has to do with the makeup of the grain mixture. In this case, there will be double the rye, less corn, and almost zero barley in it. These bourbons are known for their bite.
Common brands: Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, George T. Stagg, Basil Hayden’s
Beyond these three main types of bourbon, there are also subcategories which opens up a whole new discussion for a later day. You’ve probably heard of small batch, single barrel, unfiltered and blended bourbon which all affect the taste, price and availability of the liquor.
You may have already known these facts about America’s Spirit before, or perhaps you learned something new. Now get out there and enjoy some drinks with your newfound knowledge!