What is Bourbon? A Comprehensive Guide to Its History, Making, and Distinct Flavour

  • Posted by: whiskyblogger
  • Posted on: 20/10/23
What is Bourbon? A Comprehensive Guide to Its History, Making, and Distinct Flavour featured image

Born in Kentucky

Bourbon whiskey is a distinct and beloved spirit with a rich history, unique production methods, and a flavour profile that sets it apart. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the origins of bourbon, the intricate process of its making, and the distinct flavour notes that make it a favourite among whiskey enthusiasts.

History of Bourbon:

Willet Distillery

The roots of bourbon can be traced back to the late 18th century when European settlers, including Scots, Scots-Irish, and other nationalities, brought their distilling knowledge to America. The practice of distilling spirits, including bourbon, became prominent in what is now present-day Kentucky. Over time, bourbon gained recognition and popularity, eventually becoming a legally defined distinctive product of the United States.

Making Bourbon:

A picture of the fermenters at Buffalo Trace Distillery

Bourbon is made from a specific grain mixture, which must contain a minimum of 51% corn. This requirement gives bourbon its characteristic sweetness. Other grains such as barley, rye, and wheat are used to create the mash, which is fermented and distilled. The distilled spirit is then aged in charred oak barrels to enhance its flavour and develop the deep amber colour that is synonymous with bourbon.

Distinct Flavour of Bourbon:

Basil Hayden

The flavour profile of bourbon is influenced by several factors, including the grain mash, fermentation process, distillation techniques, and ageing in oak barrels. The predominant notes found in bourbon include caramel, vanilla, oak, and various spices. The high corn content contributes to the sweetness, while the ageing process imparts rich flavours from the charred oak, such as smokiness and woody undertones.

The popularity of Bourbon:

A picture of a Blanton’s tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery looking at a bottle

Bourbon has experienced a remarkable surge in popularity over the years, solidifying its position as a cherished American spirit. According to data firm IWSR, bourbon accounts for 8.7 per cent of the total spirits volume in the United States, a testament to its widespread recognition. The immense popularity of bourbon can be seen in its sales figures, with total sales of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye exceeding $3.6 billion in the US in 2018 alone. This significant growth reflects the deep-rooted appreciation for bourbon among consumers, as it has become an integral part of the American drinking culture. Furthermore, the recent resurgence of bourbon’s popularity has brought renewed attention to its rich history and has sparked a renewed appreciation for the craftsmanship and distinct flavour profiles that make it stand out in the world of spirits3.

Bourbon continues to evolve, and today, there are various expressions and flavour variations available to suit different palates. Flavoured bourbons, such as those infused with fruits or spices, provide an exciting twist to the traditional spirit, expanding the options for whiskey enthusiasts.

Bulleit Bourbon

Bourbon is more than just a whiskey – it is a reflection of America’s distilling heritage. With its fascinating history, meticulous production techniques, and distinctive flavour profile, it has earned a special place in the hearts of whiskey lovers globally.

Check out our article on Whisky and Bourbon, the differences between the two.

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