Last month, I wrote a little blog post entitled “The Bourbon Shortage and Why You Should Care.” Some of you then sent in emails that said: “Very helpful article. Less than helpful: the fact that you haven’t reviewed a SINGLE BOTTLE OF BOURBON YET!”
True. But before I launch into a week of Bourbon reviews, I thought I should start with the basics. Like: what is Bourbon? Bourbon is American Whiskey. VERY American.
Fact: All Bourbon is Whiskey. Not all Whiskey is Bourbon.
I’d love to give you the history of Bourbon, but it’s all muddled. Suffice it to say that what we now call Bourbon was invented in the 1700’s in an area of the American East once known as “Old Bourbon.” Folks weren’t familiar with corn whiskey back then, so when barrels of the stuff were shipped out, they were labeled for the area that produced them; therefore, “Old Bourbon” was stamped on them. And the name stuck.
While the U.S. and Canadian Governments have regulations on what can be called “Bourbon,” any drinker worth his salt will tell you that:
- Bourbon must be made in Kentucky
- Bourbon must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn
- Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels
These are the non-negotiable facts. Anyone arguing otherwise is a government official… and one NOT from Kentucky.
Tennessee Whiskey is nearly identical in its creation to Bourbon, but it’s from Tennessee. Tennessee Whiskey *never* calls itself Bourbon. Tennessee Whiskey is frikkin’ good and deserves some respect. But, I’m talking Bourbon right now, so back to the topic:
When grasping your bottle of Bourbon, you may find the word “Straight” on it. This is a good thing. For once, the U.S. Gov’t made a regulation that makes sense:
“Bourbon made of at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels, AND has been aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits; may be called straight bourbon.
Bourbon that is labeled as straight and has been aged under four years, must be labeled with the duration of its aging.”
Practical upshot here is the word “Straight” on the bottle means: there’s a 99% chance that bottle of Bourbon doesn’t suck. Knob Creek, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Bulleit, Rock Hill Farms, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, and many others are “Straight” Bourbons.
Now, I have to be honest here: I have had two Straight Bourbons that I do not like. I won’t name names, but I will *never* review those Bourbons up here. Chances are, unless I’m drunk, I won’t even talk about them at all. So, you do run the risk of getting a bottle of Bourbon that isn’t quality.
And you’ll now ask: “Help me, Booze Guru! How can I tell if the bottle I’m going to buy is good?”
And I’ll answer: “You can’t tell til you’ve had it.”
Very helpful, huh?
The truth is, taste is painfully subjective. Example: there are two kinds of people in the world; those who love Laphroaig, and those who hate Laphroaig. I fall into the latter category. While I can’t stand the stuff, I don’t knock those who love it. Why?
Taste is painfully subjective.
And so it goes with Bourbon. While I could tell you that Four Roses and Rock Hill Farms could be the best Bourbons I’ve ever tasted, will you feel the same way? Maybe. Maybe not.
But should you have Bourbon in your home bar? Absolutely!
…oh. Did you click on the picture at the top of this post? Did you notice the “something that doesn’t belong“? If you did, feel free to post a comment or ping me. Oh, and think about why I might have included it, even though it is clearly *not* Bourbon. 😉