Bourbon for Beginners
While most liquors began their spread to other parts of the world through migrating monks, touring soldiers, and trade merchants, bourbon found a life of its own in present-day Kentucky, USA. Like many of its alcoholic counterparts, there is no telling who first invented this sweet drink. It’s only generally accepted that bourbon began its development in the 18th to 19th century. Whether you’re an avid drinker, bourbon enthusiast, or a total beginner, let’s take a look at America’s contribution to the world of liquor.
What is bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whisky made in America. In order for a whisky to be classified as bourbon, it has to tick off several standards.
Firstly, the whisky must be produced in the United States and be made of at least 51% corn. In contrast, other types of whisky are made of other kinds of grains. Bourbon is also always aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years, and contains no artificial flavors or coloring. Any whisky that doesn’t meet these standards cannot be considered as “bourbon.”
How is bourbon made?
Because bourbon is actually a type of whisky, its production process is the same as whisky’s. The only difference is the ingredients involved.
Decide on the ingredients in the mash
Bourbon has to be made of at least 51% corn in the mash. The remaining 49% of the mash can be made with whatever grains the distiller chooses. This can be rye, barley, or wheat. The distiller first chooses the combination of grains to use.
Make the base
Afterwards, all the grains are mixed together to create a grain mash. This is done by incorporating the grains into heated water and yeast.
During the fermentation process, bourbon is stored in a vat for a week or two and left to ferment. During this time, ethyl alcohol forms naturally in the mix.
Strain the fermented mash
After fermentation, the grain mash is strained out so that the liquids are separated from the solids. The liquid remaining is ethyl alcohol.
Ethyl alcohol is then distilled in order to purify the liquid. In bourbon production, column stills are the most commonly used. In this process, ethyl alcohol is heated up, and the resulting vapor is collected.
Most bourbon distillers will choose to go through the distillation process twice. After the column still, the bourbon is then put through a copper pot still to further remove impurities and to increase the alcohol content in the drink.
Aging, followed by barreling
After distillation, bourbon comes out at around 80-125 proof. At this point, the liquid is aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. During this process, the liquid absorbs the flavors, color, and scents of the charred oak.
The length of time in which bourbon is aged, coupled with the location of aging and the construction of the barrel, all play important roles in affecting the bourbon’s taste. Bourbon that is only aged for 2 years is considered young, and tend to have more grain flavors in the forefront. These types of bourbon don’t normally exhibit too much of the oak’s qualities.
Even after aging, bourbon still contains a high amount of alcohol. When the liquid has been appropriately aged, distillers will then further dilute their bourbon with filtered water to bring down the alcohol to an appropriate level.
Finally, once the bourbon is rid of impurities and brought down to at least 40% ABV, it’s put in bottles, and this is when it truly stops to age.
What does bourbon taste like?
Everything within the production process contributes to a bourbon’s specific taste. The aging process isn’t the only thing that has effect on bourbon’s flavors. Every bottle of bourbon is unique; however, there are several common flavors you can find in popular bourbons:
- Baking spices