What Is Bourbon?

Learn what bourbon is from the experts at NYC's Rye House in this Howcast video.

What is bourbon? Bourbon is the classic American spirit, not the cigarettes, the actual whiskey itself. Bourbon is a corn based liquor with its own controlled methods of production that are legally classified in America and in other countries as well.

Basically, bourbon is a corn liquor. It’s a minimum of 51 percent corn in the mash bill which goes into the fermenter before it goes into the distillation process. It’s made in America. It goes into new charred oak barrels. The different levels how heavily charred it is on the inside give the notes of caramel and vanilla which hapens when you toast oak.

It spends a minimum of two years in the barrel. It comes off the still at a given proof and is then put into barrels at a different proof. It spends a minimum of two years to be called bourbon, and six years to be called Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey which means it’s also barreled and bottled in Kentucky. A lot of people think it comes only from Bourbon County, in Kentucky, which ironically is a dry county. But, no, it can be made anywhere in America. It can be made in upstate New York or it can be made in Florida as long as it follows the actual legal regulations to be called bourbon.

It’s one of the largest selling whiskey categories. It’s the biggest growing segment both in terms of mass producers and microdistilleries. It is a lot of people’s introduction into drinking fine spirits, because it’s easy. Well, it can be easy. It can be soft, sweet, and floral. Or it can be sharp, aggressive, and high proof. You can find really great examples of it for 20 or 30 dollars a bottle. It’s a growth segment in our market. It’s definitely something where you can have anything from your simple big producers – Jim Beam, Four Roses – all the way up through hand distilled micro tiny bottles that sell for 50 dollars for a 375. It was my first love in a lot of ways, and I’m very sorry to every woman that I’ve ever loved for being compared to liquor. It’s definitely an easy spirit, straight forward, and when you need a whiskey sometimes nothing else will do but bourbon.