Bourbon – a barrel-aged distilled spirit; it is a type of American whiskey mainly produced from corn. The roots of this name can be traced back to the French Bourbon dynasty although the precise inspiration remains shrouded in mystery.
However, many suggest that it’s named after Bourbon County, Kentucky or Bourbon Street, New Orleans – both named after the dynasty. Historical records say that this popular drink has been distilled since the 18th century and the use of the term can be traced back to the 1820s.
Bourbon whiskey is traditionally emblematic of the American south (particularly Kentucky) although it can be manufactured anywhere in the United States. In 2014, bourbon made up about two thirds of the distilled spirits exported by America and the revenue obtained from domestic sales accounted approximately $2.7 billion.
Scottish, Irish and other European migrants introduced the process of distillation in Kentucky during the late 18th century. The origins of bourbon whiskey are not well documented and there are many presentable conflicting accounts, some being more credible. Some whiskey enthusiasts credit Elijah Craig - distiller and Baptist minister, as the inventor of bourbon. He is said to have pioneered aging whiskey in charred oak casks, which gives bourbon its reddish colour and distinct flavours.
Others in Bourbon County claim that a man named Jacob Spears was the first to label his offering as bourbon whiskey. His home called Stone Castle on Clay-Kiser Road, spring house and warehouse still survive to this date.
Both the popular accounts cannot be extensively verified with the Craig story being fictitious and the other one being obscure outside the county. Hence, the invention of bourbon cannot be attributed to a single inventor as there are multiple brains behind its invention.
This can be confirmed by the fact that Europeans have been aging their whiskey in charred barrels for centuries before the conception of bourbon. However, farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania were the first ones to conceive the idea of bourbon whiskey. This was formerly considered as a drink for poor American farmers before becoming popular among all classes of the society. The production was subsequently moved to Kentucky due to rising taxes and has become prominent there since then.
Many would ask, “What is bourbon whiskey?
“Most trade agreements state that the name bourbon strictly applies to products made in the United States. Canadian and EU law also have the same definition although local regulations will apply as per the country where it’s being sold. The Federal US Standards for consumption are as follows:
As mentioned before, bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, but it’s mostly produced in Kentucky. Limestone is abundantly found in Kentucky and is required for filtering bourbon. That’s why 95% of all bourbon is produced in this American state with more than 5.3 million barrels being aged there too. This number exceeds the total population of Kentucky where also incidentally the annual bourbon festival is held each year in September. The most popular bourbon brands are based in Kentucky.
The mash should contain at least 51% corn with the rest being any cereal grain. A mash bill comprising wheat instead of rye is called a wheated bourbon whiskey. The grounded grain is mixed with water and finally yeast is added to ferment the mash.
The double distillation process is done using a pot still for modern bourbon production. The resultant spirit is called ‘white dog’ and is matured in new charred oak barrels. Straight bourbon should be matured for at least 2 years although no such restrictions apply to blended bourbon. This whiskey should not be over-aged and maturity instead of the aging duration is crucial for both prime bourbons and their less expensive counterparts.
Bourbon whiskey can be mixed with other drinks, taken neat or diluted with water, as per your preference.
Some of the famous bourbon cocktails are Manhattan, the Whiskey Sour, the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep.
A number of chefs have been known to incorporate bourbon whiskey into their recipes; it was historically used for medicinal purposes. It’s also used in many confections like banana bourbon syrup for waffles, chocolate cake flavouring, pumpkin pie, desserts containing fruits like grilled peach sundaes served with salted bourbon caramel and brown sugar shortcake with warmed bourbon peaches and is also used as an optional ingredient in several American pies.
Bourbon is a must try for whiskey lovers all over the world. Some of the world’s most popular and bestselling bourbon brands are Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, and more.