“America’s Native Spirit” – that is how Bourbon is shortly defined.
So, what is this Bourbon? How different is it from Whisky or Whiskey? What does Bourbon taste like? Is it any different from other types of Whiskies? Let us find out!
Before we jump into the nuances of Bourbon, we must first understand the basics!
What is Bourbon?
By Law, a drink is called Bourbon if it complies with certain factors. So, what are they?
1. Mash Bill
The mash from which the Bourbon is made MUST contain at least 51% Corn. The remaining can be anything like barley, rye or wheat.
Bourbon must be produced in the United States. Anything that is still produced with 51% Corn but outside the US is NOT a Bourbon. At least, by Law.
Bourbon must be aged only in new, charred white oak barrels. Any other types of casks are not allowed.
4. Age Statement
Label must contain Age statement only if it is aged for less than two years old.
Bourbon must be distilled up to 160 proof, put up in barrels for aging up to 125 proof and bottled no less than 80 proof (or 40% ABV)
Coming to the actual question now.
What does Bourbon taste like?
One important thing about the Bourbon law states that No additives like Coloring or flavoring should be added while production. So, where do all these tastes and aromas come from, you must be wondering?
Just like how a Whiskey gets its flavors and aromas, Bourbon gets them from the Oak barrels where they are toasted, and aged.
The processing of aging in Oak barrels adds so many flavors left from the toasting and charring of oak barrels.
So what are some of the distinctive flavors of a Bourbon?
Flavors Of A Bourbon
Vanilla & Caramel notes
Corn mash, after distillation and during the aging process, goes through a transformation in the Oak barrels where the Corn flavors are slowly replaced by vanilla and caramel notes.
It is said that at least 4 years of aging is required to get a distinct Vanilla & Caramel flavor.
Caramel notes are higher in certain brands of Bourbon and these flavors come exclusively from the Charred barrels.
When the alcohol enters into the barrels, it reacts with the barrel wood and brings out the caramel flavors.
Bourbon with Vanilla & Caramel notes are particularly sweet and smooth and very good for drinking neat or in cocktails.
Maker’s Mark is a perfect example of Sweet Bourbon.
Cinnamon & Nutmeg notes
A perfect example of Cinnamon flavor dominating is from the high percentage of Rye next to Corn.
Bourbon made from higher Rye content next to Corn tends to show Cinnamon notes. Higher barley content gives a nutmeg flavor to the Bourbon.
These flavors are usually Spicy, in the sense they are not HOT but more of a Baking Spice flavors.
Buffalo Trace has a unique Spicy flavor that you can try out now.
Wooden notes are generally characterized by the flavors of dried nuts like Almond, Walnut and Pecan. This flavor is characteristic to the aging process in the barrels.
The longer the aging, the more wooden notes the Bourbon gets. They tend to get notes of Tobacco when aged longer.
Elijah Criag is the perfect example of Wooden flavored Bourbon.
These notes are peculiar to the yeast being used for fermentation. You generally feel the notes of herbs and fruits like Orange, Mint, and Vanilla as a part of these floral notes.
Woodford Reserve can be tried out if you are a beginner for Bourbon.
Here comes an interesting question now. What is the difference between a Bourbon and a Whiskey?
Bourbon vs Whiskey:
Now that you know everything about a Bourbon, it is easier to understand what a Whiskey is.
It is basically distilled from Grain mash, particularly from Malted Barley. While Whiskey can be produced from any country in the world, Bourbon must come from America only.
On the other hand, Whiskey can be made from any fermented mash like barley, wheat, rye, etc and for Bourbon, you know the answer already – at least 51% corn.
When it comes to aging, Whiskey must be aged in Oak barrels, without any restrictions here whereas Bourbon must be aged in new, charred white oak barrels.
In short, all Bourbon are Whiskey, but not all Whiskey are Bourbon.
How many types of Bourbon are there?
There are different types based on a few characteristics like the Grains used for Mash, Aging and so on.
Based on Grains used, Wheated Bourbon contains higher Wheat content next to Corn and High Rye Bourbon, just as you guessed it right, has higher Rye content next to Corn.
Based on Aging, a Straight Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of 2 years. It is mandatory.
Based on Barrels, a Single-barrel bourbon must come from a single barrel only as opposed to Single-batch bourbon which can be a blend of several barrels stored at the same batch.
Based on Location, a Kentucky Bourbon must invariably be produced in the state of Kentucky. In fact, Bourbon originated from Kentucky, in a place called, well, BOURBON.
Ok, we have seen enough of Bourbon Whiskey and I am sure you must be tempted to ask – How should I drink Bourbon?
How should I drink Bourbon?
Well, there is no hard and fast rule to this question. In fact, for any drinks, you can taste them in several ways.
Just Bourbon and nothing else. No Ice, no Water, no nothing!
Add a little bit of ice cubes, shake or stir them and strain them onto a tumbler.
3. On the Rocks
A classic way of drinking whiskey, in general. Serve Bourbon in a Rocks Glass and add ice cubes, so they melt and slowly dilute your drink.
4. With Water
Yet another simple way of drinking. Little bit of water is known to bring our arena of flavors out. Chilled water is better.
Oh yeah! A plethora of Bourbon cocktails await you if you are to explore this segment.
Finally, hope you have had a taste of What Bourbon is, by now! It is never too late to taste a good bourbon.
Have a safe drink!